I sat in the courtroom all day on Wednesday as Bradley Manning’s trial wound its way to a tragic and demoralizing conclusion. I wanted to hear Eugene Debs, and instead I was trapped there, watching Socrates reach for the hemlock and gulp it down. Just a few minutes in and I wanted to scream or shout.
I don’t blame Bradley Manning for apologizing for his actions and effectively begging for the court’s mercy. He’s on trial in a system rigged against him. The commander in chief declared him guilty long ago. He’s been convicted. The judge has been offered a promotion. The prosecution has been given a playing field slanted steeply in its favor. Why should Manning not follow the only advice anyone’s ever given him and seek to minimize his sentence? Maybe he actually believes that what he did was wrong. But — wow — does it make for some perverse palaver in the courtroom.
This was the sentencing phase of the trial, but there was no discussion of what good or harm might come of a greater or lesser sentence, in terms of deterrence or restitution or prevention or any other goal. That’s one thing I wanted to scream at various points in the proceedings.
This was the trial of the most significant whistleblower in U.S. history, but there was no mention of anything he’d blown the whistle on, any of the crimes exposed or prevented, wars ended, nonviolent democratic movements catalyzed. Nothing on why he’s a four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Nothing. Every time that the wars went unmentioned, I wanted to scream. War was like air in this courtroom, everybody on all sides militarized — and it went unnoticed and unmentioned.