Accounts of last week's hearings in the case against Army private Bradley Manning contain eerie reminders of the unconstitutional military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Only a few days into the proceedings, we have a defendant subjected to treatment tinged with torture and vilified by the Executive branch, biased officials, unavailable witnesses, and exaggerated secrecy claims.
At the hearing last week, the public got the first view of Manning since he endured abhorrent treatment while in military custody:
At the jail on the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., he was held in isolation and forced to strip off his clothing and sleep in a tear-proof smock, a measure military officials said was necessary because he might be a suicide risk.Manning's attorney, David Coombs, accused the hearing's presiding officer - the Army's version of a judge - of bias because the officer (Lt. Col. Paul Almanza) also works at the Justice Department. Coombs asked Almanza to recuse himself.
Almanza refused to recuse himself and refused to suspend the case pending an appeal. With Almanza as the presiding officer, both prosecution and judge then both report to the Executive branch in some respect, but, nonetheless, an appellate court denied Manning's request for a recusal. Sounds eerily similar to Guantanamo proceedings where one branch of government served as both judge and prosecution.
In requesting Almanza's recusal, Manning's defense team was concerned with more than just the appearance of impropriety, certainly present despite that Almanza assures us he hasn't talked about the case with anyone at the Justice Department. Almanza has precluded Manning from calling witnesses to defend himself:
[Coombs] said that Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, the investigating officer who works as a Justice Department prosecutor in civilian life, was preventing the defense from calling witnesses to show that little harm was done by the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of confidential documents provided to WikiLeaks.
As too many defendants faced at Guantanamo military commissions, Manning is dealing with questionable claims of secrecy and being barred from presenting evidence in his own defense. Manning's attorney asked a logical question:
“All this stuff has been leaked,” Mr. Coombs said. “A year and a half later, where’s the danger? Where’s the harm?”
Unfortunately, when it comes to secrecy claims, logic doesn't go too far. Just because something is public doesn't save us from the government absurdly arguing that it is "classified" and must be kept secret for supposed national security purposes. Just look at the ridiculous government response when the New York Times recently described the troves of classified information that a Times reporter found in a junkyard in Iraq. You read that right, a junkyard.
The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.
The documents — many marked secret — form part of the military’s internal investigation, and confirm much of what happened at Haditha, a Euphrates River town where Marines killed 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women and children, some just toddlers.
This is too serious to make light of the fact that the junkyard attendant was burning the U.S. military secrets to whip up a supper of "smoked carp."
Here is the government's lame response:
Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, said that many of the documents remained classified and should have been destroyed. “Despite the way in which they were improperly discarded and came into your possession, we are not at liberty to discuss classified information,” he said.
Meanwhile, back in Ft. Meade, Maryland, the Justice Department attorney turned "impartial" presiding officer is denying Manning the ability to call witnesses. Does the Obama administration not see the hypocrisy of obsessing over a select few alleged "leakers," who are usually whistleblowers, when a Times reporter can find troves of discarded classified information in a random Iraqi junkyard?
Jesselyn Radack is the National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.