Bradley Manning's attorney David Coombs spoke publicly about Manning's case for the first time last night. Coombs is in the midst of litigating a motion to dismiss the charges against Manning due to illegal pre-trial punishment conditions, including being kept in a cage in Kuwait and months of abusive solitary confinement in the brig at a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
Josh Gerstein of Politico – one of the few reporters actually covering the case – reported:
“Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched in our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time,” David Coombs told about 100 Manning supporters at a Washington, D.C., church Monday night. “Not only was it stupid and counterproductive — it was criminal.”
Coombs isn't the first to call Manning's abhorrent pre-trial treatment "stupid and counterproductive." U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign after using the same accurate description for Manning's treatment, treatment that was eerily similar to the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" used against terrorist suspects.
Coombs rightly recognized the larger implications of Manning's case on whistleblowers:
Coombs suggested it was ironic that Obama signed legislation to protect whistle-blowers last week, just as Manning’s hearing was under way.
“How can you reconcile that? I don’t know the answer to that,” Coombs said.
Coombs' is a valid point.
(On Al Jazeera yesterday I also discussed the administration's attitude toward whistleblowers in light of Manning's case.)
View Coombs' presentation here:
Coombs said he was convinced that the Manning case would be the most voluminous in military history, yet – as I pointed out yesterday – the U.S. main stream media has been largely absent from Manning's pre-trial proceedings.
Coombs convinced me yesterday that the military court martial system is a fair process for Manning. Unfortunately, the public is still largely kept in the dark about the process' fairness as most of the pleadings and all of the transcripts remain secret and orders are only read from the bench at the Courtroom in Ft. Meade. These conditions no doubt make it more difficult for the media to cover the case, but no less important.
The implications of Manning's case on freedom of the press and the media cannot be understated, as Coombs so eloquently stated,
If you can possibly aid the enemy by giving information to the press, with no intent that that information land in the hands of the enemy, and by that mere action alone, you can be found to have aided the enemy, that's a scary prospect . . . that would silence a lot of critics of our government.
During testimony this week, the government blamed Manning for manipulating the media, when the bulk of testimony revealed that it was the government, and more specifically the military officials at Quantico, who were motivated by how they would look in the media rather than the being concerned with Manning's welfare.
Contrary to the government's assertions about Manning manipulating the media, Coombs said his focus has been in the courtroom and on his client, which is why he said he has not, and will not in the future, grant media interview requests. However, Coombs credited the widespread public outrage and media attention as achieving Manning's eventual transfer out of solitary confinement at Quantico (after 265 days) to Ft. Leavenworth, where he was immediately placed in the general population and has been a model prisoner.
I was heartened by the numbers Coombs presented: 764,000 people have visited his website, 72,000 sent mail to Manning. Still, while there were many MSM media outlets in attendance last night, history dictates some skepticism that those outlets will take Coombs' words about the significance of the Manning case to heart and make the trip to Ft. Meade tomorrow, when litigation on Manning's pre-trial confinement conditions is slated to continue.
It's time for the media to wake up. If Manning can be tortured and convicted of "aiding the enemy" simply by disclosing information - and information that evidence war crimes no less - there will be an immeasurable chilling effect on whistleblowers and journalists' ability to report anything other than government talking points.
This post originally appeared on Radack's Daily Kos blog.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.