“If a fellow soldier is punished for taking his oath to defend the constitution seriously, what does that mean for our military and for our democracy?” were among the most meaningful words spoken by the some 250 former soldiers and others who converged today at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas today to protest the Obama administration’s treatment of PFC Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified government information to WikiLeaks and ultimately to the public.
“Free Bradley Manning, Hero, Whistle-Blower” writing across large colorful signs were held at Bob Dougherty Memorial Park where the rally converged, the first speakers presented and music was conducted for one hour.
“Then they marched several blocks to the main entrance of Fort Leavenworth, where PFC Manning is being held,” stated Matt Smucker, a leader with the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Rally speakers called on the Obama Administration to take two actions: 1) protect whistle-blowers, and 2) drop all charges against the Army private.
This was the first large public rally to support PFC Bradley Manning since he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth on April 20, 2011, after suffering extreme and unusual confinement conditions at US Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. .
Former military members from two veterans’ organizations, Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, comprised a large part of today’s turnout. This included a contingent that drove from Fort Hood, Texas according to Smucker.
“PFC Bradley Manning is a fellow soldier,” said Brian Wolfe, a Lawrence Kansas-based Army Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“If a fellow soldier is punished for taking his oath to defend the constitution seriously, what does that mean for our military and for our democracy?” asked the former soldier.
Information that PFC Manning allegdely revealed includes the videotaped massacre of Reuters journalists and Iraqi civilians, plus diplomatic cables that experts say helped catalyze democratic revolts across the Middle East this spring.
Referencing the “Arab Spring”, a 16-foot high banner read, “Freedom for Bradley Manning, American Hero. Let Freedom Ring from Leavenworth to Tahrir, Egypt.”
“The information Bradley Manning is accused of releasing should have been in the public domain. Whoever revealed it is an American hero.” said Jeff Paterson, who will spoke at the rally on behalf of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
“Our leaders in Washington need to return to American principles of transparent and accountable government. That starts with protecting—not prosecuting—whistle-blowers and dropping all charges against Bradley Manning.”
PFC Bradley Manning, 23-years-old, was detained in Iraq one year ago on May 26, 2010. He still awaits his first public court hearing, now expected to begin later this summer. Today’s rally is part of an escalating campaign to show broad public support for PFC Bradley Manning.
Over 4,300 individuals have contributed $333,000 towards PFC Manning’s legal fees and related public education efforts. The Bradley Manning Support Network is dedicated to securing due process and a public trial for PFC Manning — and to eventually winning his freedom.