FORT MEADE, MARYLAND — Eighteen months after he was first accused of revealing information to WikiLeaks, PFC Bradley Manning appeared before an Article 32 investigating officer this morning. Supporters began gathering outside the gates of Fort Meade to call for Manning’s freedom and denounce the proceedings as unjust. Inside the tightly-controlled military court room, lead defense counsel David Coombs challenged the investigating officer, Army Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, to recuse himself due to conflicts of interest.
“Military officials have begun conducting their star chamber prosecution after abusing Bradley Manning of his rights for eighteen months,” said Jeff Paterson, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network, who was speaking from the vigil at Fort Meade. “The investigating officer is not only biased to produce an outcome that is favorable to his employer at the Justice Department — he’s under pressure from his Commander-in-Chief, who has already inappropriately weighed-in on this case.”
Supporters have long argued that PFC Manning could not receive a fair hearing due to unlawful command influence from President Obama, who publicly declared in April that the former Army intelligence analyst “broke the law.”
A bus carrying over 50 supporters from Occupy Wall Street arrived shortly after 9:00 AM as the media blackout began inside the courtroom. Former Army linguist Lt. Dan Choi, who was a prominent activist in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” greeted the new arrivals and spoke out in support of Manning.
“We must have the truth to achieve justice — and without justice we will never see true peace,” said Lt. Choi as he spoke to reporters. “Despite the best efforts of President Obama, troops are coming from Iraq this year because of information about the cover-up of war crimes that Bradley Manning is accused of revealing to the public.”
The Obama administration had sought to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq well beyond the expiration of the current Status of Forces Agreement at the end of this year. Cables released via WikiLeaks in September showed that American military and diplomatic officials had covered up an atrocity that involved the execution of Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi parliament was forced by the ensuing public outrage to withdraw legal immunity from any future U.S. military presence in Iraq — a stipulation that the U.S. Defense Department would not accept.
Hundreds of supporters are planning to rally and march again tomorrow outside the gates of Fort Meade to mark Bradley Manning’s 24th birthday.