*Originally published July 13, 2011 / Black Agenda Report and before Bradley became Chelsea Manning

Bradley Manning, Political Imprisonment and the Myopia of the Left

Jared Ball

As long as we continue to allow the United States to function as an empire it will.  And as long as it treats many of its own “citizens” as “subjects” it is likely to impose that same status on those abroad.  And to the extent that domestic struggles and the punished survivors of those struggles are ignored efforts to change the country’s impact in the world will suffer. Until there is massive unrest and protest aimed at the treatment of the Indigenous, Black, Brown and poor, until there are flotillas headed to Pelican Bay and “flytillas” to Pine Ridge claims of solidarity with the rest of the world will remain as hollow as claims of progress here.  It is unfortunate the extent to which this political disconnect exists.

And one need only look at the example of Bradley Manning, the accused and imprisoned deliverer of government secrets to Wikileaks, and the ways in which his case is so rarely connected to pre-existing cases of political imprisonment and torture to see how far that gap really is.  So much could be learned were his treatment put in the context of for instance, the Scott sisters or the even longer-standing cases of Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli or the Move 9.  Failure to do so hampers a deeper understanding of this country, its impact in the world and what it will take to change it.

Earlier this month at the Socialism 2011 conference in Chicago constitutional and civil rights lawyer Glen Greenwald gave an impressive talk that explored the consequences of Barack Obama’s increasingly imperial presidency and the shortcomings of the progressive political Left.  According to Greenwald Obama’s track record on civil liberties and the so-called “war on terror” demonstrates a strict continuation of Bush and Cheney policies and yet so much of the Left obediently defends the man and his party.  Greenwald also pointed out, importantly, that because of the president’s deft use of “symbol… packaging… [and] rhetoric…” he is able to disguise what is becoming an increasingly serious threat to civil liberties and human rights.  For Greenwald the mission creep and shifting of targets from so-called “terrorists” to U.S. citizens is becoming too easy, conducted under too much secrecy and leading to an end of privacy and supposed claims of intellectual and political freedoms.  But, despite his principled and accurate concern over these shifting targets Greenwald himself demonstrated a dangerous myopia, one that continues to threaten the development of progressive movements that he and those like him wish to see.

Greenwald said that he was among the first to investigate and write about Bradley Manning and Wikileaks because they had been described vaguely by the New York Times as threats to national security.  This, said Greenwald, was enough for him to become suspicious and think that Manning and Wikileaks deserved some assistance.  But, being the principled man he is, Greenwald (and others like him) should now then apply that same standard to the dozens upon dozens of political prisoners whose imprisonment pre-dates that of Manning’s by decades.  Following the same logic applied to Bradley Manning would greatly help the existing movement to free political prisoners get more attention and more resources.  Who better to assist in the uncovering of the real inner-workings of this society? And who better than they, those who have long-been considered threats to national security, to develop analyses needed to make real change? Perhaps this would help other well-meaning people like David House, founder of the Bradley Manning Support Committee, from having to admit, as he did last week, that it was the Manning case that awakened him to what this country could do.

The brave prisoners now risking their lives to stop the daily torture they suffer in Pelican Bay and prisons around the country are the antecedents of Bradley Manning.  And the specifically political prisoners who continue to exist as such also continue to illustrate the national mooring to an imperialism that Greenwald and others seem somehow new to.  And this is why we support the work of those like the Black is Back Coalition, The Jericho Movement and the Freedom Archives for their consistent reminder of the “other wars,” those waged against domestic liberation struggles and the captives that remain as a result; those whose liberties were first to be taken before those now slowly being dwindled.

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