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At Quantico: Rallying For Bradley Manning

Blurry Prison (from Wikipedia Commons)

Blurry Prison (from Wikipedia Commons)

I drove down from Massachusetts to be at Quantico last Sunday.  Several reporters covering the rally thrust mikes my way and asked why.  Because I once took an oath to support and defend the Constitution.  Took it several times, in fact.  I’m not sure that this computed for them.  To me torture is so obviously wrong that I’m not very articulate about it.

What’s hard to convey is how decent and kind the rally members, and even the local cops at the first, were to one another. One cop said “No problem” when I thanked him. Total strangers smiled at one another, brief encounters and from the heart. Anyway, here’s what I saw and heard:

About 400 Bradley Manning supporters gathered in the cold sunlight Sunday afternoon on a straw-covered construction site across Route 1 in Triangle, Va., facing the entrance to the Marine installation at Quantico.  By the gate is a more than life-size statue of the iconic image of Marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.  There were all ages, with probably a preponderance of people in their 50s and 60s.  Many identified themselves by T-shirts or other gear as Veterans for Peace in one organization or another.  Others were veterans of whose service I learned only by chatting with them.  People told me that they were there from Boston, Mass.; Wisconsin; Michigan; Richmond, Va.; Columbia, S.C., as well as from D.C. and Northern Virginia.

Met a woman who was there with her adult son — she said that what the Marines were doing to Manning just wrung her heart, and that her frail, 94-year-old mother had wanted to be there, as well.  Saw one person in a wheelchair, at least one other using a walker, and several using canes, not easy on the soft ground of the construction site to which police had directed us.  One fascinating figure was a young man who looked about 23, slight and handsome, wearing a well-worn Marines’ fatigue shirt with combat ribbons, unbuttoned and over a T shirt. I never felt comfortable approaching him to ask about himself or the ribbons.

A plethora of colorful Free Bradley signs appeared, and scads of others, professional and homemade. “Bradley Manning is a hero.  It’s the empire that has no clothes.”  “We can’t afford the Pentagon.  We’re broke.”  “Afghanistan: Just another war for the rich.”  “Caution:  Whistle-blower Torture Zone.” The best, I thought, read:  “Guilty until proven guilty???”  Mine said “Briefs for Bradley” on one side; Habeas Corpus Bradley!!” on the other.  A couple of chuckling veterans brainstormed sending their old briefs to Quantico.

The speakers I could hear included an impressive representative from Courage to Resist (http://www.couragetoresist.org). He’d been in solitary for a week at Pearl Harbor for refusing to ship out to, I thought he said, Iraq.  Had read all the print on his toothpaste again, and again, and again — it being the only reading material in his cell. Could still not imagine what Manning was enduring.  Courage to Resist has raised more than $100,000 for Bradley Manning’s legal defense.  It must now raise about $50,000 more to pay for the experts needed in a capital case.  For, make no mistake, Manning does face the death penalty.

Daniel Ellsberg, a Marine still, talked about Semper Fidelis — the Marine Corps motto – but, faithful to what?  Not to the Corps.  Not to the Commander in Chief. But solely to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Bush, Cheney, et al. were domestic enemies of the Constitution.  Obama has persisted. The government has the burden of proving that Manning did what he’s charged with, but Ellsberg will give him credit that he did what he’s charged with doing.

Before Iraq, there was no Bradley Manning.  Manning has had “the courage and the conscience” to reveal what the United States is doing.  It’s Obama’s lie that he has ended torture.  Ellsberg waited 22 months to reveal the Pentagon Papers.  His advice to prospective whistle blowers:  “Don’t wait till the bombs are falling to tell the truth.”  Ellsberg talked about that Marine memorial, for which he’d helped to pay.  It memorializes the kind of courage you see routinely on the battlefield. What you don’t see, he noted, is “comparable civil courage to risk careers, access, to tell the truth.”

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright, served 29 years in the Army, followed by a distinguished career as a Foreign Service Officer, before resigning eight years ago while Deputy Chief of Mission at our Embassy in Mongolia in protest at the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Wright asked:  What was the Department of Defense doing with all those State Department cables, anyway? Also – Nothing is happening here (Gitmo North, she called it) that does not come from the White House.

One speaker asked:  Who classified those documents, and why? Perfectly good question, in my view. If a classified document should never have been classified in the first place, is it still an offense to release it?

Last speaker was David House, right after his visit Sunday with Bradley Manning. Powerful, as indeed were all the speakers I could hear. Manning is “not an exception.  He’s a herald of things to come. Young people will shed light on the dark places.”  “This will not stand.” House spoke a commitment to follow in Bradley’s footsteps, as a computer scientist to make this a more open and transparent government.  “The time is now to act.”

Then a sort of march over the soft, treacherous footing of the construction site and back along Route 1, mostly within the traffic cones set out to keep us on the side of the road, in the direction of the Marine Memorial.  Very inspiring to spot Ellsberg’s hair, silver in the bright sunlight, and Ann Wright’s golden hair ahead of us.  Per an official with a bullhorn, only Wright, Ellsberg, and three others were to be allowed to cross Route 1 and lay the red and white carnations at the memorial.  Police also allowed press with visible credentials outside the barricades that kept protesters on the far side of Route 1. There were a LOT of local police across the road facing us, from behind their own barriers. In its way it was rather amusing.

A bugle, it sounded like, played Taps softly and slowly from somewhere.  Down the crowd to the left was a chorus, hard to make out at first, of protesters gently singing “Free Bradley Manning, We will not be moved.”  Then a lot of chorused shouts of “Free Bradley Manning!”  and “This is What Democracy Looks Like!”

Much earlier, I’d spotted eight mounted police, drawn up in a line in the trees on a small hillside on the northeast corner of the intersection.  They were there, just waiting there, somewhat eerily, for well over an hour.  Now, looking south down Route 1, there was also a line of about three dozen Virginia State Police in dark riot gear all the way across the road. Eventually they started moving in formation, with deliberation, toward the rally.

This did not look good to me.  I said so to the Viet Nam vet whom I’d met in the parking lot of the nearby Marine Museum and with whom I buddied throughout the afternoon.  He said that he and his wife are original members of Code Pink, and veterans of many, many peace demonstrations.  They’d been trained previously to be arrested.  It had never happened.  No surprise to me.  He’s at least 6’2″, military carriage, salt and pepper hair and beard, and a look of great kindness.  From the photo of his wife on their joint card, she just looks like a really nice person. He said that the police arrest you only if they’re scared of you. He was not worried about it. Nonetheless he honored my concern about some kind of trouble and came with me out of the roadway, back up onto the construction site.

While making our way eventually back to the Marine Corps Museum parking lot, he and I saw a couple of demonstrators in orange jump suits being arrested on Route 1, beside two buses that the police had brought.  There’s no way the police could have got us all into those two buses.  The 400 or so who showed up were apparently a couple hundred more than organizers had anticipated.

It’s been a real shock today to see Michael Whitney’s video of the gratuitous Virginia State Police violence against Ann Wright and, apparently, against Daniel Ellsberg.  I saw none of it at the time.

There will be a public hearing at Gitmo North in Manning’s case in May or June. Please, this hearing needs to be packed with Manning’s supporters!

Trial will be scheduled later.  Still an awful lot of work to do.  Thanks, mzchief, for all the help, and Go, Bradley!

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