Bradley Manning’s Trial: Media Coverage & the Conditions for Reporters at Fort Meade

On Friday, on KALW’s program, “Your Call,” I appeared with The Guardian‘s Ed Pilkington and former McClatchy Baghdad Bureau correspondent Sahar Issa to discuss Pfc. Bradley Manning’s trial.

The focus was media coverage of the trial and the lack of attention by media to what he revealed along with conditions for press at Fort Meade. There also was a bit of discussion of the verdict itself, which came down one week ago and Issa movingly reported on the current violence in Iraq and shared how she had hoped the trial would rekindle interest in the war crimes Manning revealed, which did not happen.

The following is a transcription of the final five-minute portion of KALW’s 8/1/2013 program “Your Call: The trial of Bradley Manning” which you can listen to in its entirety at the link. [Thanks to my assistant, Jeff Creamer, for transcribing.] 

Rose Aguilar: Ed, what are you thoughts, that this is ‘history’ already? [that the contents of the Manning leaks are regarded as ‘old news’]

Ed Pilkington: I think we have to be careful, not least because I’m thinking of Bradley Manning himself. I mean, bear in mind he might have, who knows, -he might have 30 years in jail to look forward to. Let’s not take away from him what he actually achieved, which is that there was a huge debate. He said he wanted to spark a worldwide debate about the cost of war.

Well, there was a worldwide debate about the cost of war, and it was achieved by Wikileaks. And I know that because we at the Guardian were right at the beginning of it. You know, we approached Wikileaks, we worked with Julian Assange, and we put together an international lineup of newspapers which carried the very first Wikileaks’ disclosures.

And it did have a huge impact; it caused a massive debate around the world. And I think, particularly at a local level, there were debates in Haiti about corruption in Haiti, there were debates in Tunisia and in Egypt which helped to spark the Arab Spring. There were huge debates about the collateral Murder video when it was put out.

And three years on, it’s perhaps not surprising that the [inaudible] has calmed down and they’ve subsided. Although one does still see the databases of information that Manning leaked referred to regularly, they’ve now become a sort of journalist tool that people are still using around the world.

And that’s my second point really, is that the debate has subsided, it’s kind of calmed down, which isn’t surprising three years later. And it points to what’s important about that you need to keep giving the possibility for journalism to do its work: to hold power accountable.

And this is why I think the Manning trial is particularly significant and why the lack of media coverage nationally in America has been regrettable. Because what the Obama administration is definitely trying to do is to make sure there are no future Bradley Mannings. They are trying to use him to cause such a chill over the media that no people will ever do what he did again.

And you look at Edward Snowden, now stuck in Russia for up to a year, which is a country you know I don’t think he would choose naturally to be in. But he is there because he watched what happened to Bradley Manning and he has let it be known that he is fearful that the same treatment would be given to him. So what did he do? He left the country.

I think many other people would do something different; -they would not leak at all. And that is what the Obama administration wants to happen. And therefor there’s a real risk of a chill being put on, particularly investigative journalism, and particularly in the national security area.

Rose Aguilar: Yes, and especially in this information age when you look at how many people have access to such a massive trove of documents.

And speaking of those documents, Kevin before we let you go I also wanted to ask you just about what they do reveal, because I wanted to revisit some of the documents. The Bradley Manning Support Network has a piece called “What Did WikiLeaks Reveal?”, and just quickly, bullet points:

-I could go on, but I bet that a lot of people who have been closely following this (Manning) case really don’t know much about this information.

Kevin Gosztola: We’ve hit on a key problem with the media’s coverage of whistleblowers, which is that any time you have a case where somebody is, -and I’m using this term generically; let’s just assume that anybody who puts out information that shows us stuff we do not already know, which our government wants to keep secret. That person is in a way, shape or form a whistleblower.

I would lump Manning and I would lump Edward Snowden into that, and what you see is that they [the media] feed off the government’s characterization of these people. They repeat what they are being fed; either by the Pentagon or what they’re being told by the spokesperson from the WH, and this is what becomes part of their narrative to their story.

Just look at how they’re focusing on Putin’s role now; -that’s being completely shoved into the story about Snowden as if it actually matters to the reality that we are having a wide debate about surveillance and the NSA. And then with Bradley Manning, we talk about how so much information came out there was this document dump and it completely obscured the reality that the Obama administration has closed off avenues for national security whistleblowers. They have had opportunities throughout their whole entire administration to make it possible for people in intelligence agencies, national security agencies, and I dare say, even in the military, to be able to come forward with information so that transparency and openness can be enhanced in government.

But yet this is an area where they clearly don’t want any individuals, -especially at the lower levels, to be able to influence what the public understands about national security; what we know specifically about whether a drone program is going,  what we know about the surveillance program, what we know about US foreign policy and how we’re fighting the war on terrorism. They just don’t want the individuals to challenge it.

[program end]

Transcription by Jeff Creamer, Firedoglake. You can listen to the entire program at KALW.

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