Blog Postmortem: learning from the billionaire journalism model

At least Matt Taibbi is writing again. He’s back with Rolling Stone, where he published ‘The $9 Billion Witness,’ an excellent account of Alayne Fleishman, the whistleblower JPMorgan Chase and the DOJ tried to silence:

This past year she watched as Holder’s Justice Department struck a series of historic settlement deals with Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. The root bargain in these deals was cash for secrecy. The banks paid big fines, without trials or even judges – only secret negotiations that typically ended with the public shown nothing but vague, quasi-official papers called “statements of facts,” which were conveniently devoid of anything like actual facts.

And now, with Holder about to leave office and his Justice Department reportedly wrapping up its final settlements, the state is effectively putting the finishing touches on what will amount to a sweeping, industrywide effort to bury the facts of a whole generation of Wall Street corruption. “I could be sued into bankruptcy,” she says. “I could lose my license to practice law. I could lose everything. But if we don’t start speaking up, then this really is all we’re going to get: the biggest financial cover-up in history.”

Good stuff. It’s Taibbi’s first publicly available journalism since February. But it’s in Rolling Stone because Taibbi parted ways with First Look after ruffling president Pierre Omidyar’s feathers, before publishing a single word for the Racket, the magazine he was supposed to launch under the First Look Media umbrella this fall. Today, Omidyar announced that he’s scrapping the project altogether, and firing everyone Taibbi had culled for the magazine. Beyond being the billionaire behind eBay and former Paypal board member, which in my view makes him megalomaniacal on its own, Omidyar also micromanages comically:

The lack of autonomous budgets, for instance, meant that in many cases Omidyar was personally signing off on—and occasionally objecting to—employee expense reports for taxi rides and office supplies. Both Cook, The Intercept‘s editor-in-chief, and Taibbi chafed at what they regarded as onerous intrusions into their hiring authority.

Taibbi and First Look disagreed over the functionality of the website, the timing of its launch, which designers and programmers they would use,  Racket‘s organizational chart—even, at one point, over office seating assignments.

Hopefully someone will leak Omidyar’s disputed seating chart while he’s busy reviewing Staples receipts. Not hard to see why Intercept editor John Cook is jumping ship too.

Tarzie, blogger-turned-heretic for “lefties in the back row” who has been calling all of this from day one (meaning while everyone else was dismissing criticism of billionaire journalism with “it’s too early to judge”), has picked out the highlights (lowlights) from the New York mag Omidyar profile. (My favorite: “Omidyar’s organization operates a little like WikiLeaks, except it is staffed by well-salaried journalists and backed by Silicon Valley money.”)

As Chris Floyd says, “You lie down with dogs, Matt, you get up with fleas. What the hell else did you think would happen?” What did Taibbi think would happen, working for the guy who sat on the board of PayPal as it froze the account of WikiLeaks, an act of clear censorship and government-corporate collusion, that no respectable journalist, or lefty, and certainly no lefty journalist, should condone by association. Those who point to Omidyar’s extremely belated request for “leniency” for the PayPal 14 should call on the 123rd richest man in the world to pay the activists’ measly $80,000 restitution (that total was before last month’s sentencing, so it’s now even lower). They should also note that Omidyar’s handwringing upholds the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act’s logic, which gives corporations a dangerous, disproportionate weapon to use against activists, whom Omidyar says are the ones who wield “excessive impact” online.

Umfuld is a Tumblr blogger covering the Intercept and PandoDaily, a news site founded by Sarah Lacy that covers Silicon Valley. He contrasts Taibbi’s split with Pando’s firing of David Sirota, a liberal journalist from whom the Intercept quotes heavily in its latest piece on Wall Street:

To compare Carr laying off David Sirota with Omidyar firing Matt Taibbi there are some important differences:
– Omidyar never let Taibbi publish a word even though he clearly paid good money for the story critical of predatory lending to be produced.
– Carr laid off Sirota after publishing / editing several of his pension articles, one of which has brought threats of a huge lawsuit from Chris Christie, or something.
– Carr laid off Sirota during a substantial decline in readership.
– Omidyar fired Taibbi despite his clearly being the best chance for The Racket to have a major impact when launched.
– Sirota is / was under no non-disclosure agreement with Pando.
– Taibbi is clearly forbidden to discuss his firing by Omidyar.

You get the idea. Hopefully.

Pando also saw some problems coming, noting differences in Omidyar’s and Taibbi’s outlooks for the magazine this summer. In February 2014, according to the New York Times, Taibbi intended to “start his own publication focusing on financial and political corruption.” Just a few months later, Omidyar published a blog post on First Look’s progress, looking forward to working with “the talented Matt Taibbi to plan and launch this fall a new digital magazine with a satirical approach to American politics and culture.” One wonders if Taibbi got bold enough to suggest Omidyar — whose own philanthropy is incredibly shady — should be up for coverage. Who knows? As Umfuld notes and as many suspect, it appears Taibbi is under a non-disclosure agreement, and so we may never get more than the Intercept’s official account, which paints Omidyar as a controller and the writers as iconoclasts just trying to get things done.

We should largely ignore this narrative of personalities, because — besides the fact that it’s an official account and Taibbi isn’t given a voice — it obscures the structural lessons journalists and media critics should be learning.

What has happened under Omidyar’s reign? Tarzie, on top of this more than anyone, has the latest on Greenwald’s slow-motion leaking of Snowden’s documents (I’m more interested in them than he is — interested, for instance, that we have more confirmation that the Country X the Intercept redacted is in fact Afghanistan, though the original country and not the corroboration came from the cache), which has shifted from him not being allowed to give anyone else documents to now vetting even freelance journalists to view the full set and don’t you ask why.

Only recently, I’ve been covering some of the Intercept’s other writers and their framing, as have others before me, like Arthur Silber, Kevin Dooley, Patrick Higgins, Chris Floyd, and others.

On the larger lessons: one thing to note is that money doesn’t buy journalism. Omidyar hired many of the left’s favorite, and some of the US’s most popular, journalists, and paid many of them to simply not write. For months, Matt Taibbi, Liliana Segura, and the rest of the First Look staff were publishing at much lower rates than before, if at all. Of course, preparation takes time, but Taibbi’s first piece was already written by the time he was canned, and it’s unclear what was keeping the Intercept’s production down.

But money does buy influence, social circles, and conformity. Holding out a $250 million enterprise, with most lefty journalists in America freelancing to pay rent, Omidyar and his top hires felt comfortable that anyone who might want a job would refrain from criticizing this obviously dubious deal. Timothy Shorrock said the NYMag Omidyar profile should’ve been called “left-wing journalists close their eyes to money & hypocrisy.” Protesting that it’s still too early to make that call, Arun Gupta said what he seems to think is a defense: “I know for fact many scores of well-known left journos tried to get a job there.” Only when the Intercept appeared finished with a round of hires did some ease up enough to point out some flaws, but too few of those were structural.

As Tarzie said – again, from day one:

No doubt Greenwald is shrewdly negotiating for full editorial autonomy from Mr. .00001%, so, as Arthur Silber remarked: ‘look for all the stories about the corrupt, vicious ruling class by January at the latest.’

For Greenwald or his colleagues to claim “editorial autonomy” is to deflect the criticism. Sure, Omidyar isn’t over their shoulder (though he does write “more on [their] internal messaging than anyone else”), but as Greenwald himself put it in 2007:

I think it’s relevant who owns any journalistic outlet. The reason for that is obvious. The reason is people who work for companies know who signs their paychecks and know the work they do ought to be pleasing to the people who sign their paychecks.

Furthermore, will Omidyar – himself a very active political, philanthropic, and economic player, having funded members of India’s Modi government and Ukraine’s parliament – be subject to the Intercept’s fearless, adversarial journalism? Nope.

Which way forward for the Intercept? One of their newest hires, Sharon Weinberger, will serve as national security editor. A former defense analyst for SPC, a research, electronics and computer software company working for the US DoD, Weinberger could be seen partnering with ex-DoD & Booz Allen VP Dov Zakheim, giving weaponry advice to the US military, and fear-mongering about Iran’s nuclear weapons as recently as 2009 in the New York Post:

It underscored the US’s greatest fears — a nuclear Iran isn’t just about the Middle East, it’s about all the countries that Iran could supply with arms and technology.

What’s so fearless and adversarial about that? At this rate, the Racket‘s folding is good news. Taibbi is better off without Omidyar, as are the rest of us.

Back to Tarzie, back to the bigger picture:

The hoarding of wealth, like the hoarding of state secrets, is really not such a bad thing when it can be parlayed into more wealth and slightly better journalism, and if you think otherwise you must be jealous.

That’s the implication we’ll take away, unless we remove our money blinders.

It’s not like we don’t have valuable cultural critics and systems of analysis at the ready — it’s more a matter of whether and where to apply them. As Tarzie wrote to Noam Chomsky about the Propaganda Model, which he and Edward Herman set forth in Manufacturing Consent:

It is my sincere belief that The Propaganda Model applies all the way out to the margins of American discourse, and that it is as useful for analyzing a Democracy Now broadcast or an issue of Jacobin as it is to understanding the Fox News Network.

As he notes, five filters operate on news media:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium’s funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Fear ideology

Tarzie analyzes how these filters operate on a Democracy Now! broadcast, and then discusses Chomsky’s representation of Aaron Swartz’s case.

It seems eminently reasonable to apply the Propaganda Model to every news outlet, particularly one run by a micromanaging billionaire who’s investing in right-wing governments in India and the Ukraine and who oversaw and could’ve done more to stop an unprecedented act of corporate censorship on behalf of the state against WikiLeaks at its time of perhaps greatest need. The lesson to be learned from First Look is that Omidyar’s move was, consciously or not, one to curtail the margins of acceptable discourse, and that applying the Propaganda Model with scrutiny is an attempt to expand those margins, or at least to understand where they are, and how they work, and for whom.

Chomsky’s flaw is that he assumes the Model only applies to corporate media, that independent and nonprofit media are above reproach. There is no clean money, which is less a blanket condemnation than a categorical understanding of the compromises and competing interests involved in the news media industry. I’ll preempt accusations of purity with the free admission that no media organization is perfect. Yes, many news outlets are owned by billionaires. But when one of them brands itself as iconoclastic and editorially autonomous, we should take a closer look to see whether that’s true, or even possible. The far left rightly laughs at MSNBC for essentially playing the Democrats’ counterpart to Fox News, justifying President Obama’s every move, turning into an anti-Republican machine come election time, and mocking the idea of anything outside the two-party system. Those paying closer attention notice that MSNBC would never take its owner, Comcast, to journalistic task. Hardly hard-hitting news. But the same left hesitates to criticize what it sees as one of their own.

There is a growing consensus, at least on the left, that objective journalism is a myth. Every news outlet is subjective, at the very least by the stories they choose to cover and those they ignore. Speaking generally, it’s time we took this a step further and understand that total autonomy can only exist in a vacuum. It’s far more valuable to investigate the conflicts, money, and interests that will always be at play, and keep asking questions to ensure as much independence as possible.

Blog Postmortem: learning from the billionaire journalism model

Obama expands — not just extends — US war on Afghanistan

It’s worth noting that Obama’s “decision” authorizing US troops’ role in Afghanistan in 2015 is not merely an extension of war he promised to end this year; it’s also an expansion, as US forces are now given new powers, allowed to kill new targets and use new weapons:

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

As Marcy Wheeler writes,

Virtually simultaneously with the decision to permit American forces to be more involved with the Afghan government, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reversed Hamid Karzai’s ban on night raids — and also renamed them “night operations.”

The Times has more on that here:

Nazifullah Salarzai, Mr. Ghani’s spokesman, said that the American and NATO missions in 2015 would be governed by the security agreements the Afghan government has signed with the United States and with NATO.

Neither agreement precludes the possibility of joint night raids.

Some Afghans are worried about resumption of the raids.

The Taliban will be going into other people’s houses, and the Americans will be behind them again, and there will be losses again of women and children when Taliban shoot from people’s houses, and in reaction the foreigners will bomb or kill them,” said Haji Abdullah Jan, a local shura leader in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province. “I am not in favor of night raids because we have experienced such huge losses from them during those past years.

Nevertheless, headlines have largely said that Obama merely “extended” the US’s role, implicitly focusing on the limited, less surprising, less interesting aspect of Obama’s hypocrisy. Continue reading “Obama expands — not just extends — US war on Afghanistan”

Obama expands — not just extends — US war on Afghanistan

The disappearing classified order

Friday night, the New York Times published a major story online under the then-all-caps headline, “IN SECRET, OBAMA EXTENDS U.S. ROLE IN AFGHAN COMBAT.” Upon publication, at 9:33pm EST, Mark Mazzetti’s and Eric Schmitt’s article began,

President Obama signed a secret order in recent weeks authorizing a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

It’s especially relevant that the order was signed in secret, because the decision directly contradicts Obama’s 2012 campaign rhetoric about withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 — in fact, Obama specifically made it a campaign issue that he promised to withdraw troops by this year’s end, whereas Mitt Romney had no timetable.

On Twitter, journalist Gregory Johnson noted another, implicit reason for the story’s importance: “Unmentioned, but I assume this also allows Guantanamo to stay open another year,” with Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith explaining, “It precludes Taliban detainees from arguing ‘end of hostilities’ as a basis for release for another year.”

The next morning, however, I noticed the print edition carried the much different headline, “IN A SHIFT, OBAMA EXTENDS U.S. ROLE IN AFGHAN COMBAT.” Continue reading “The disappearing classified order”

The disappearing classified order

New York Times blames Iran for US sanctions

Maintaining the continued threat of Iran’s nuclear program is consistently useful to the US government’s foreign policy rhetoric. For decades it has been used to justify sending billions of dollars every year to Israel for “self-defense” and to maintain the US’s own billion-dollar nuclear stockpile. It has been used to justify US sanctions on Iran, Israel’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists (implicitly), and various strategic proxy wars.

The New York Timestimeline, just ahead of upcoming finalizing talks with Iran, covering “whether Iran is racing toward nuclear weapon capabilities” is therefore quite useful in upholding this theme. The Times says Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program is “one of the most contentious issues challenging the West, including the United States and Israel, which has been involved in a shadow war with the country,” using the singular “has” and thus shielding the United States from that clause, despite the US’s decades of “crippling” sanctions, to use its own term. Sanctions both deprive ordinary citizens of food and medicine and serve as a trapping prelude to war: the logic goes that if sanctions don’t work, meaning if you don’t bend to our will, we’ll have to take it up a notch. Continue reading “New York Times blames Iran for US sanctions”

New York Times blames Iran for US sanctions

Entrapment and how systemic abuse perpetuates itself

I have a new article up over at Truthout, “Not So Paranoid,” regarding the New York Times‘ reporting on the US government’s increased and increasing use of undercover agents in nearly every agency. This privacy-infringing practice is immune from accountability, and it only serves to justify its own expansion, since it entraps people who wouldn’t be committing crimes otherwise.

Read the full piece here.

Entrapment and how systemic abuse perpetuates itself

Brief Questioning of Hideous Men

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel on Reforms to the Nuclear Enterprise in the Pentagon Briefing Room

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL

Q: “Where’s the accountability for the failure to I guess improve and take the steps that were needed over this time? How many billions of dollars?”
Q: “How did the air crews manage with just one wrench?”
Q: “Everybody’s asking: What happened to your cheek?”
Q: (inaudible) — “Cabinet meeting.” (Laughter.)
Q: “Over the years, we’ve heard very similar words from your predecessors. How do you convey to the American public that this time will be different?”

Brief Questioning of Hideous Men

Syria: intervention update

The New York Times reports on what US bombs have done to regular civilians in Syria since airstrikes began this summer:

many people are angry at the Americans. Food and fuel prices in Raqqa have soared, power blackouts have prevailed, and order is now threatened by a vacuum of any authority.

For all their violence and intolerance toward disbelievers, the fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, at least functioned as a government, providing basic services and some semblance of stability.

“People don’t want some outside power to attack,” Khalid Farhan, a Raqqa resident, said during a recent trip to Turkey.

Syrian civilians now see not that ISIS was a noble organization but that by contrast, American airstrikes have left them completely destabilized. Continue reading “Syria: intervention update”

Syria: intervention update

The Paper of No Records (updated with NYT response)

Update below

In its bold ‘Response to President Xi Jinping‘ of China, the New York Times editorial board takes a stand:

The Times has no intention of altering its coverage to meet the demands of any government — be it that [sic] of China, the United States or any other nation. Nor would any credible news organization. The Times has a long history of taking on the American government, from the publication of the Pentagon Papers to investigations of secret government eavesdropping.

But despite the Times‘ claims to the contrary, this, like most rules, must come with an American Exception. This is a brazen whitewashing of the very type of stories the New York Times is known for withholding to meet the demands of the United States government: secret government eavesdropping. As has been well documented, the Times sat on James Risen’s and Eric Lichtblau’s revelation that the Bush administration was illegally wiretapping American citizens without warrants for more than a year, publishing ‘Bush Lets U.S. Spy On Callers Without Courts’ on December 16, 2005. Continue reading “The Paper of No Records (updated with NYT response)”

The Paper of No Records (updated with NYT response)

Hello to Language: on the words Godard inspired

Fandor’s Michael Atkinson lays out the ways in which even normally perceptive critics have been stupefied by Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Goodbye to Language, forgetting that narratively unconventional doesn’t mean incomprehensible and walking on critical eggshells as they warn viewers that they might have to do a little brain-work instead of watching passively. Lou Lumenick, who writes of Godard’s “private language only film critics and Upper West Side audiences pretend to understand at this point,” is the least subtle of these, but writing for the New York Post, he’s also the easiest fish in the barrel to shoot. Atkinson thankfully aims his sights a little higher.

The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott, no slouch generally, windily maintains that Godard “seems to divide the world into skeptics and worshipers, with not much middle ground,” hardly bothering to make a case as to what a middle ground would look like, or why the “skeptics” (as if Godard is a conspiracy theorist) are simply moviegoers that do not or will not consider anything out of the structural mainstream.

Then:

The routinely astute Andrew O’Hehir, at Salon, even seemed at a loss, writing what he said might be a “reader-proof” review of what might be a “viewer-proof” movie—gingerly saying that you “have to cast aside preconceptions about movies being entertaining, or at least about what you think that means, in order to enjoy Goodbye to Language, and that’s not possible for everybody.”

I could add to the critique. Atkinson says Eric Kohn “gets” Godard but his review also calls it “baffling,” “esoteric,” and “dense.” The always thoughtful Bilge Ebiri opens a positive review, “I’ve now seen Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film twice, and I think I might be one more viewing away from finally being able to say what the hell it’s about.”

It’s actually not very difficult to enjoy, and it’s not as purely cerebral as even its advocates make it seem, by which I mean it’s also viscerally fun and fascinating and challenging and worthwhile. Continue reading “Hello to Language: on the words Godard inspired”

Hello to Language: on the words Godard inspired

Libyan lessons learned

“What Happened to the Humanitarians Who Wanted to Save Libyans With Bombs and Drones?” asks The Intercept.

I’m writing mostly to answer this question because it isn’t explicitly said in the article: what happened to advocates of the western war on Libya was that they were rewarded with further inclusion in media circles as members of the serious establishment who believe that the US has humanitarian intentions, bombs can save lives, and war can bring peace. The co-author of the piece, in fact, is one of them. Continue reading “Libyan lessons learned”

Libyan lessons learned

Selection day

Early reports tell me that these fuckers trade portions of power back and forth to give alternating factions of Americans the recurring delusion that they retain the capacity for meaningful change while funneling their money ever upward into the pockets and offshore accounts of bankers, multinationals, and increasingly private security forces, but check back every few years for a more expensive update. Back to you.

Selection day

The PayPal 14 case has effectively ended, but they still need your help (updated)

Update, 11/3/14: Journalist Douglas Lucas was in the San Jose, CA, courtroom last week, and he reports that each of the defendants with felonies on their records had those dismissed, and each worked out a timeframe to pay the remainder of their owed restitution.

Though many declined, each defendant was given the opportunity to make a statement in court. Ethan Miles, who previously chose jail time over having a felony on his record, said in part:

It is because of my desire for transparency that I participated in the Internet activity that brings me here today. I believe that for a healthy democracy to exist, the public must be informed.

The full report at the Cryptosphere contains photos, more commentary on the day’s events, and more information about each defendant.

Original Story

They’ll each pay what restitution money they have and will be placed on payment plans for the remainder

The PayPal 14 are activists charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for launching Distributed Denial of Service attacks against the websites of PayPal and other financial companies in retaliation for those companies’ extra-legal blockade of WikiLeaks upon the publication of secret documents exposing US atrocities, revealed by US Army private Chelsea Manning. Back in 2010, a PayPal representative said that on November 27, 2010, the US State Department sent the online commerce service a letter informing them that WikiLeaks was engaging in “illegal” activities, and PayPal consequently blocked funds to the publisher. Believing this was clear censorship, the PayPal 14 struck back. Continue reading “The PayPal 14 case has effectively ended, but they still need your help (updated)”

The PayPal 14 case has effectively ended, but they still need your help (updated)

The war on drugs is doing just fine

Ryan Devereaux writes ‘Surprise: U.S. Drug War in Afghanistan Not Going Well.’ He details a new report from the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, claiming that “despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013.” These so-called “failures” have been “consistently documented for years.”

One reason that poppy levels have been growing for so long is that U.S. Marines have actively protected their cultivation. According to Geraldo Rivera’s framing, Marines “tolerate cultivation” of opium in Afghanistan as recently as 2010 for “security reasons,” because if it was destroyed, the population would turn against the U.S. Continue reading “The war on drugs is doing just fine”

The war on drugs is doing just fine

Obama knew he was destabilizing Syria, and he did it anyway

In the Intercept, Dan Froomkin writes that ‘Obama Knew Arming Rebels [in Syria] Was Useless, But Did it Anyway.’ His argument is based on a “New York Times story about how President Obama asked the CIA a while back whether arming rebel forces – pretty much the agency’s signature strategy — had ever worked in the past.” It’s important to note that “worked” here, though never spelled out, essentially means “toppled the side that wasn’t U.S.-compliant in favor of one that’d bow to us in return for arming opposition forces.”

Froomkin largely chalks up Obama’s decision to “political pressure,” linking to this Fox News post, ‘Republicans urge Obama to enforce Syria ‘red line,’ oppose deploying troops.’ Even when the Democratic president arms the rebels, it’s the Republicans’ fault. By perpetuating the liberal trope that Democrats are peaceful in principle but spineless in the face of gridlock, Froomkin lets them off the hook and plays into their own political finger-pointing. Democrats couldn’t have justified it better themselves. Continue reading “Obama knew he was destabilizing Syria, and he did it anyway”

Obama knew he was destabilizing Syria, and he did it anyway

Pathologizing Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier’s street photography is worthy of a Museum of Modern Art installation — whether she’d have wanted it displayed there is another question. Maier was a nanny for decades, all the while creating fantastic photographs, shooting from her waist-level Roliflex as she escorted children around Chicago. Collector John Maloof stumbled upon a trove of her stunningly reflective, beautifully composed negatives of city characters at an auction after her death, and subsequently applauded himself for Finding Vivian Maier in a documentary that hit U.S. theaters in March.

It was a treat to see Maier’s black and white perspective on the big screen — her candid shots are evocative, varied, and fresh, reminiscent of Leon Levinstein or Robert Frank, and still breathing more than fifty years later. She had a keen eye for poignant moments and lively characters, but she also took penetrating self-portraits and more abstract street shots.

But it quickly became clear that Maloof was more interested in painting Maier as an oddball than in understanding her ostensible contradictions, and worse, in pathologizing her double life to cast aspersions on her motives. “Why would a nanny be taking all these pictures?” he asks, as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive. He might have asked about Wallace Stevens, ‘Why would an insurance agent be writing all these poems?’ Maloof implies a romanticized ideal of the artist without any real-world evidence that giving up her day job would’ve made Maier a better photographer. As it was, Maier supervised children for so many years and still managed to take hundreds of thousands of top-notch stills. Continue reading “Pathologizing Vivian Maier”

Pathologizing Vivian Maier

Mourning Phase

Beck has learned to say goodbye, he’s endured i-so-la-tion, someone or he himself remains unforgiven. He may have dropped the “u” for the title, but in his Morning Phase, Beck is grieving. He’s also slowly resigning himself to the consistency of change, and his new album is gorgeous and sad and comforting all at once.

Morning, sunrise, and “waking light” all herald CHANGE in big — if fuzzy — letters. Something is new. She is gone. The bed is bigger and colder and your arms feel weirdly long when you don’t need them to wrap someone else closer. Continue reading “Mourning Phase”

Mourning Phase

Empathy for empire

Molly Crabapple, a political artist whose artwork I frequently admire and appreciate and some of which decorates my walls, recently admonished what she terms the “Western left” for failing to properly and tangibly support the Syrian revolutionaries fighting their government. She coats this condemnation in deep concern for the Syrian people, but the barely latent thesis shines through: Crabapple is arguing for military intervention.

If it wasn’t clear, Crabapple elucidates when responding to questions about her piece from Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola.

Very often on the left there’s this way where we simplify things, where we’re like, ‘America has fucked up in the Middle East, America murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq.’ And then we look at something like Syria where a nonviolent opposition was met with extreme violence and then after trying to arm themselves they were asking for military aid and we’re like “America’s fucked up in the Middle East, America’s murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq. Let’s not even look at these people. Let’s pretend they don’t even exist.” And I think that there’s a legitimate debate about military aid and intervention.

Author and Western leftist David Mizner responded deftly to the original piece with ’For 3rd Anniversary of War in Syria, Molly Crabapple Turns Into a Liberal Hawk.’ He explains how Crabapple is refuting claims her subjects aren’t making to highlight her own empathy — those she condemns are not cheering the status quo, they are simply trying to prevent further horror. Continue reading “Empathy for empire”

Empathy for empire

On the import of Debra Van Poolen’s artistic witness

Those of us who covered Chelsea Manning’s court martial at Ft. Meade relied on the drawings of artists in attendance to illustrate our coverage of witnesses testifying, dramatic proceedings, and vital courtroom moments. Debra van Poolen, one such artist, wrote about her experience here. I’ve thanked Debra in a piece explaining the value of her and others’ images, first published here at WARP Place. Relatedly, see artist Clark Stoeckley’s book-length graphic account of the trial here.


We are, increasingly, a visual people, overloaded with imagery at every turn. Thus the army’s (and administration’s) strategy to turn what should have been a trial available to the public for witness, conversation, and debate into a covert one made sense. No cameras, no cell phones, no computers in the courtroom. Metal detectors scanned our every inch for a hidden lens or wire. Uniformed muscles with weapons lined the walls, escorting us out to stretch our limbs and rest our eyes, watching, retrieving us. In the media room, a relaxed appearance betrayed an even more sinister crackdown on any attempt to publicize the show trial of U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning.

By and large, the mainstream media ignored the trial. We few reporters followed proceedings on a delayed video feed, that—just next door to the NSA, capable of spying on Americans’ every communication—was conveniently, annoyingly liable to cut out at any minute, for several at a time. So adverse was the Army to the public witnessing the immense, inexorable courage of a 5’2” soldier who stood head and shoulders above her fear-stricken fellow servicemen that when a few seconds of video did seep onto the world wide web, Ft. Meade soldiers with handguns were assigned to patrol the media room, their hot breath on our necks as we tried to transcribe extensive motions in real time. Continue reading “On the import of Debra Van Poolen’s artistic witness”

On the import of Debra Van Poolen’s artistic witness

Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review

On May 24, 2013, I reviewed Alex Gibney’s WikiLeaks/Bradley Manning film ‘We Steal Secrets,’ focusing on its portrayal of Pfc. Bradley Manning. Read that review here. Alex Gibney wrote me a letter in response, reprinted in full below:

Dear Nathan:

I read your recent review of “We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks.”

I have great respect for the work that you have done and continue to do on behalf of Bradley Manning.  With that in mind, let me express my disagreement with a number of your assertions about my film.  I do not expect you to share my views, but I would hope that you hear them. Continue reading “Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review”

Alex Gibney’s response to my ‘We Steal Secrets’ review

What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out

This review was first posted here on May 24, 2013

Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” chronicles WikiLeaks’ front-page, world-shocking 2010 leaks from inception to publication to aftermath, framing WikiLeaks’ work as a meteoric rise giving way to a self-incurred implosion.

While I find fault with this view, and even its premise that WikiLeaks has failed and died (the site continues to publish Stratfor emails and Kissinger files, it just won an important Icelandic victory to resume accepting donations through Visa interlocutors, and the Freedom of the Press foundation continues to funnel anonymous contributions its way), I’d rather let others dissect its portrayal of Assange and WikiLeaks and instead focus on how it characterizes Bradley Manning. (Read WikiLeaks’ annotated copy of the film’s script here.)

Earlier this year, we took issue with some of director Alex Gibney’s comments associating whistleblowing with alienation, pathologizing Manning’s leaks and undermining his political values. Producer Sam Black emailed to assure us that, in fact, Bradley Manning is “a hero in the film. He is the moral and emotional center of a complex story about what should and should not be secret.”

Though the movie does laudably transition away from its opening focus on Julian Assange by reminding viewers that Manning is the courageous whistleblower who deserves at least as much public attention, Manning’s story only makes it into about a quarter of the two-hour film, which quotes journalists, former WikiLeaks members, high-ranking government officials, and fellow soldiers.

The time that is spent on Manning leaves much to be desired, and what it leaves out is as much to blame as what it includes. Ultimately, the resulting portrait of Bradley Manning is one of pity more than empathy, one that makes us feel bad for Manning rather than take a serious interest in his beliefs and his plight. Continue reading “What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out”

What ‘We Steal Secrets’ leaves out

The United States cannot win its war on Chelsea Manning

By Russell Fuller

The United States cannot win its war on Bradley Manning. Though it sent a somewhat fragile young man off to war in Iraq, it produced instead a committed humanitarian; though it has caged him without trial for three years, one of them in torturous solitary confinement, it produced instead a fine, free spirit; though it brings its full weight to bear on a man who stands but five-foot two and tips the scales at one hundred and five pounds, it simply steeled his spine; though it restricts public access to pre-trial hearings and, in contradistinction to the First Amendment, threatens the meager group of gathered journalists and witnesses by stating today that access is not a right but a privilege, it produces instead a hunger for truth. Continue reading “The United States cannot win its war on Chelsea Manning”

The United States cannot win its war on Chelsea Manning

Bradley Manning’s torture hearing

Manning on the stand. Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.
Manning on the stand. Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Update: I’ve posted a lengthier summary of this hearing and Manning’s testimony here.

For the last three weeks in Ft. Meade, MD, Bradley Manning has had a pretrial motion hearing to seek accountability for the abusive treatment he endured at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia, from July 29, 2010, to April 20, 2011. Manning was on Prevention of Injury watch (POI) or Suicide Watch his entire time in the brig, isolated in a 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day. For the first six months, he got only 20 minutes of sunshine a day. For the last month and a half, he had to surrender his underwear at night. For his entire time there, he was monitored around the clock, he had to ask for toilet paper and soap, and he had to wear metal shackles any time he left his cell. There weren’t detainees next to his cell, and when he left his cell the brig went in lockdown, so he was effectively barred from speaking to other inmates. And the military used his poor communication to justify his treatment.

About a dozen Quantico officials testified for several hours each to explain that Manning’s conditions were in his own interest: most said they thought he was going to kill himself because he made two nooses in prison in Kuwait — when he was left in a cage and no explained what was happening to him, he broke down. Yet Manning hasn’t hurt himself once at Ft. Leavenworth. Others said that because of the national security implications of Manning’s charges, and the fact that other detainees were “very patriotic,” that Manning was in danger of being attacked — they couldn’t explain, however, why he wasn’t put in protective custody (which has many fewer restrictions), or why he hasn’t been attacked while in medium security for a year and a half in Ft. Leavenworth.

This is painfully counterproductive. As professor Craig Haney — who defense lawyer David Coombs cited in court — told Congress:

Prisoners in long-term solitary confinement suffer psychological breakdowns from the lack of human contact that can lead to psychosis, mutilations, and suicide…

The military wouldn’t concede that Manning was held in solitary confinement. But in the portion Coombs quoted, Haney explains how prison officials use different terms to conceal these conditions:

I should acknowledge that the term “solitary confinement” is a term of art in corrections. Solitary or isolated confinement goes by a variety of names in U.S. prisons—Security Housing, Administrative Segregation, Close Management, High Security, Closed Cell Restriction, and so on. But the units all have in common the fact that the prisoners who are housed inside them are confined on average 23 hours a day in typically windowless or nearly windowless cells that commonly range in dimension from 60 to 80 square feet. The ones on the smaller side of this range are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, one that contains a bunk, a toilet and sink, and all of the prisoner’s worldly possessions. Thus, prisoners in solitary confinement sleep, eat, and defecate in their cells, in spaces that are no more than a few feet apart from one another…

Manning didn’t even get these “worldly possessions.” No matter what the military wants to call it, Manning was in solitary confinement.

The defense is moving to dismiss all charges based on this abusive treatment, based on the Article 13 prohibition against pretrial punishment. As an alternative, if the judge won’t through out the case, the defense requests at least 10-for-1 sentencing credit for the time Manning was in these conditions. Judge Lind is reviewing testimony and will probably rule in a few weeks. We return to court January 8-11, 2013.

There’s much more to unpack in each report, and I’d like to expound on how the chain of command ensured Manning never got out of solitary, but here for now are my summaries from the courtroom:

Day 1.
Day 2.
Day 3.
Day 4.
Day 5.
Day 6.
Day 7 & 8.
Day 9.
Day 10.
Day 11.

Bradley Manning’s torture hearing

Leniency for generals, jail time for whistleblowers

Or, the National Insecurity State

[Many thanks to Antiwar, Counterpunch, and Dissident Voice for running this piece first.]

General Petraeus and President Obama

It’s no secret that the powerful in America are frequently immune to prosecution for committing far worse crimes than those by the powerless. Bush administration torturers are on book tours while torture whistleblowers are on trial. Wall Street executives are counting their bonuses while foreclosed homeowners are packing their bags. Life’s not fair.

That’s one reason why it was so startling to see Gen. David Petraeus resign upon learning the FBI had discovered his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. Surely, the director of the accountability-free, drone-happy CIA could sleep around as he pleased and not fear a fellow government agency would rat him out, right?

Ah, the unexpected pleasures of the ever-growing security state. It turns out the FBI found out that Petraeus shared more than a bed with Broadwell — likely his emails, rife with classified information, too, though he claims that Broadwell got the information from officials in Afghanistan. And this administration hates nothing more than the unintended release of classified information: despite anonymously leaking favorable-but-Top Secret information to The New York Times on a weekly basis, the Obama administration has tried to use the Espionage Act to convict whistleblowers more often than all previous administrations combined.

But not so fast. Gen. Petraeus is still their man, with a reputation to uphold. So when President Obama was asked about the potential security breach, he said, “I have no evidence at this point, from what I’ve seen, that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security.”

The statement is crafted to appear interested in the good of national security, to appear to put America’s safety first. But the subtext says much more: There may have been a classified disclosure that didn’t impact national security at all, or that did so positively, but that isn’t a problem.

These comments directly contradict government arguments in a much bigger ongoing investigation: that of WikiLeaks and Pfc. Bradley Manning. Cutting off Manning’s ability to argue that he was a whistleblower, who knew that the information WikiLeaks released wouldn’t bring harm to national security but instead would properly inform the American citizenry, the government prosecution has fully precluded discussion of whether or not WikiLeaks’ releases brought harm to national security from the trial. Even conceding that WikiLeaks’ release of hundreds of thousands of documents may not have harmed national security, the government says the effect is irrelevant to Manning’s guilt or innocence.

But Gen. Petraeus — or any of the other high-ranking officials who leak Top Secret information, a classification level higher than anything Pfc. Manning is accused of releasing — will not be held to this standard.

This is the chilling effect on whistleblowing: share classified information with a biographer selling books by glorifying your war-making, and your president assures the press that you’ve caused no harm; share crimes, uncounted civilian casualties, and corporate backroom dealing with your fellow taxpaying citizens, and you face a potential life sentence in prison, not to mention nine months of confinement abuse, an extensively delayed trial, and your president’s declaring you guilty before trial.

Time and again, Bradley Manning is stepped on so the military can discipline dissent and discourage those he might inspire. Meanwhile, the prurient press is more curious about Petraeus’s sex life than the growing security state and the whistleblowers trying in vain to stop it before it consumes us all. We cannot afford to abide this double standard any longer.

Leniency for generals, jail time for whistleblowers

“Why can’t you be reasonable?” asks judge in the case to end secrecy in Bradley Manning’s trial

[This post was first published at BradleyManning.org — view it there.]

The CCR argued its case at the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces today for transparency in Bradley Manning’s court-martial trial. Judges questioned why the government forced the issue to come to court at all, instead of simply making the documents public.

By Nathan Fuller. October 10, 2012.

During oral arguments in the Center for Constitutional Rights’ lawsuit against the government seeking public access to basic court documents in Bradley Manning’s court-martial trial, judges for the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces demanded the government explain why it wouldn’t simply provide these documents in the first place.

When Army lawyer Capt. Chad Fisher said that the court wasn’t constitutionally required to provide public access to documents like prosecution briefs, transcripts, and rulings, Judge Margaret Ryan interrupted him to ask what she called a “common sense” question.

“Why can’t you just give it to them? Instead of making this a constitutional case, why can’t you just be reasonable?”

Fisher was unable to directly answer the question. Instead, he gave an array of responses that circumvented the basic issue: he repeated his belief that the court wasn’t obliged to make these records public, he said the fact that the public could attend the hearings meant they were “open,” he complained that the defense wasn’t asking the proper authority, and he reiterated the government’s position that the availability of FOIA provided sufficient public and press access.

The five judges repeatedly questioned and challenged each of Fisher’s points, particularly the idea that FOIA requests, to which the government frequently takes weeks, months, or even years to respond, provided sufficient and contemporaneous access, especially considering the fact that FOIA requests in this case have already been denied. They also pushed back on Fisher’s claim that “Nothing has been withheld” from the public and the press, based on the idea that attending the hearings amounts to fully accessing the proceedings.

“How is oral argument sufficient if you can’t read the briefs?” one judge asked.

“It’s not as if they’re speaking a foreign language,” Fisher responded.

But as journalists from the 30 major media outlets who submitted a supportive brief in this case explained, the media (and therefore the public) needs these documents to adequately cover the case:

“Journalists rely heavily on court documents to gain and provide to readers the background of and context surrounding a legal controversy — awareness and understanding of which is often necessary to accurately report on the dispute. Prior access to the materials also allows reporters, the overwhelming majority of whom have no legal background or education, to process the oftentimes complex legal theories at their own pace, or to interview a legal expert who could explain the issues, so they are better equipped to understand what is transpiring in a proceeding they attend.”

Shayana Kadidal, the CCR lawyer arguing in court today, similarly contended earlier this year that providing openness-in-name-only effectively “choked off” coverage of Manning’s hearings.

But the judges, not seemingly satisfied with Fisher’s responses, kept returning to the more elemental point that the government could avoid this litigation and a potential ruling that would affect courts-martial to come by simply turning over the documents requested. The court already has a process in place to redact documents, the judges noted, and parties settle extrajudicial matters with a compromise out of court all the time, so it seems perfectly feasible for the government to comply with the CCR’s reasonable request for access to the documents.

In the midst of this questioning, Fisher did concede what the CCR has long observed: that Guantanamo tribunals – hardly beacons of transparency – were less secretive than Bradley Manning’s court-martial, because the public could access filed briefs and transcripts to those proceedings.

The CCR’s Kadidal fielded a similar though not quite as lengthy barrage of questioning from the appeals court judges. The first issue they raised was whether this court even has jurisdiction to make a ruling on this case, as their jurisdiction has been narrowly limited and it isn’t clear that they have standing to make a ruling that affects the press and public alike. Kadidal responded that the government hadn’t raised this issue in their replies, and so he would need an additional 10 days to file a supplement that addresses the court’s jurisdiction.

Judge Ryan also wanted to know whether there was precedent for this court to compel the production of documents that didn’t yet exist. She was referring to the CCR’s request for transcripts of RCM 802 conferences, the private telephonic meetings Judge Denise Lind holds between Ft. Meade hearings with both the defense and the prosecution. She also wanted Kadidal to account for how exactly the documents would hypothetically be produced: who would transcribe the hearings, or who would pay a stenographer?

Kadidal responded that an audio file would be acceptable, but on the issue more generally, he said he believes the court should make a First Amendment ruling granting the press the right to these documents and let lower courts adjudicate the logistics. Judges replied that it was unclear that the First Amendment affords contemporaneous access to these documents: in other words, it might be wholly constitutional for the court to provide these documents after the fact.

Kadidal will submit his jurisdictional supplement in 10 days, and the government will submit a reply less than a week later. It’s unclear when or if this court will issue a ruling, or when exactly the parties might return to court. We’ll update our coverage of this case as it unfolds.

“Why can’t you be reasonable?” asks judge in the case to end secrecy in Bradley Manning’s trial

Rule of law abandoned for Bradley Manning

(This post first appeared at the New Matilda and then at Antiwar.)

Bradley Manning’s critics need to be more careful if they want to accuse him of breaking the law. The real outrage is the way prosecutors and the military more broadly have handled his case: the Marines and Army have violated their own code of justice in several ways, for several months, precluding a fair trial and making a mockery of the rule of law.

The complaints of critics reveal the fundamental hypocrisy in Manning’s case — the rule of law is not applied evenly. While war criminals, torturers, and known murderers walk freely, the military is aggressively punishing the messenger who exposed heinous crimes and rampant abuse. Prosecutors go beyond disciplining a soldier for stepping out of line, attempting to associate whistle-blowing with terrorism by charging Manning with “aiding the enemy.”

The most prominent injustice is what drew many to Manning’s plight in 2011: his abusive, brutal, and illegal treatment at the Quantico Marine Brig. Against nine months of recommendations of brig psychiatrists, Bradley saw sunshine only 20 minutes each day, was kept in solitary confinement, was put on prevention of injury watch, and was forced to stand nude nightly. The military says these conditions were in Manning’s best interest, that he was a suicide risk and without this treatment he would’ve harmed himself.

Newly surfaced emails reveal the truth: that three-star Lt. Gen. George Flynn, removed from Quantico and likely taking orders from the Pentagon, ordered Manning’s abusive treatment and ignored psychiatrists to keep Manning in solitary confinement. Such treatment is clearly punitive and therefore a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, is motioning to dismiss charges based on this punitive treatment on 27 November. We’ll see if Judge Lind will hold the Marines accountable.

By the time that motion is argued, Manning will have spent 919 days in prison without a court martial. A speedy trial would’ve started nearly two years ago. Instead, delay after delay pushes litigation back further. Critics note that David Coombs had to ask for several delays, pushing the trial back himself. But in several cases, delays arose because the prosecution explicitly withheld basic documents that were material to the defence. For example, on 26 July, at 7:50 PM, just hours before the defence filed the motion to dismiss based on pretrial punishment, the prosecution handed over 84 emails relating to that punishment and revealed that there were 1290 more, which it later turned over in court. The prosecution sat on those emails for at least six full months before giving them to the defence at the eleventh hour, forcing Coombs to delay litigation of the motion to dismiss.

Similarly, the prosecution stalled in handing over thousands of discovery documents regarding the State Department’s reaction to WikiLeaks’ releases, and only did so when Lind finally forced their hands.

But how can Lind fairly adjudicate a trial that has already been ruled on by her superior officers? In April 2011, President Obama, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces whom all inferior officers answer to, decreed that Bradley Manning “broke the law“. Echoing his commanding officer in March 2012, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Manning “did violate the law“.

Dempsey and the President should take note: it is unlawful command influence and a direct violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for either of them to have declared Bradley Manning guilty before trial. Both officials may say their comments were off-hand, but the message has been clearly sent to the judge, Col. Denise Lind — to rule in favor of Bradley Manning is to contradict your commanding officers.

So throughout these lengthy pretrial proceedings, PFC Manning’s due process rights have been deprived or infringed upon in many ways. But even before the process began, we knew that the rule of law was not being applied evenly. Instead, it’s aggressive persecution for the conscientious soldier and leniency or full immunity for officials in power.

Look at the treatment given to the war criminals that Manning exposed.

None of those revealed in the Collateral Murder video to have killed innocent Iraqi civilians and their rescuers have been prosecuted. None of the soldiers who handcuffed and summarily executed an Iraqi family, including women and toddlers, are on trial. Those who have been caught committing mass atrocities have been given light punishment, if any. Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, ringleader of the “Kill Team” in Afghanistan that murdered unarmed civilians and took their body parts as souvenirs is in prison, but is eligible for parole in less than 10 years. Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, who ordered the 2005 Haditha massacre that killed 24 innocent Iraqis (including children), got no jail time at all. None of the Marines who carried out the killings were even prosecuted.

Several more WikiLeaks revelations uncovered criminal acts. Hillary Clinton ordered US officials to spy on members of the UN. US officials covered up child abuse by Afghan contractors. The former president of Yemen took credit for attacks in his own country carried out by the United States. None of them face trial.

So much for the rule of law that Bradley Manning’s critics tout so widely. Those who commit war crimes get leniency or a welcome-home golf tournament; those who expose war crimes face life in prison without parole, and solitary confinement before trial to boot.

Rule of law abandoned for Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning summer recap

I’ve neglected this blog due to my increased and still increasing role with the Bradley Manning Support Network, and you can still find all of my recent writing at BradleyManning.org. But I want to collect my Bradley Manning coverage from this summer all in one place. Below are hearing reports, a few articles, and radio interviews. I’ll continue to add pieces to this recap in the coming days.

Ft. Meade rally for PFC Bradley Manning. (Photo by Owen Wiltshire.)

Reports from Ft. Meade

June 6-8 hearing recap

Hearing report August 28

Hearing report August 29

Hearing report August 30

Articles

Incompetence or deception? Two years of evasions by the prosecution: “There is more secrecy surrounding the U.S. military’s ongoing prosecution of PFC Bradley Manning than the much-criticized Guantanamo Bay trials.. The hearings aren’t closed-door sessions, but more insidiously, they include no public records, no transcripts, and no public motions from the government. They provide so little media access that the Center for Constitutional Rights and several media organizations are suing the military for more transparency. The lawsuit follows protests from acoalition of media figures who say that they have been blocked from accessing even basic information about the trial.”

Debates, discussions, and reforms“WikiLeaks immediately upended journalism as we knew it, filling newspapers with more revelations than editors knew what to do with, more scoops in a year than most journalists get in a lifetime, and more source documents than American journalists had ever had access to before. WikiLeaks blew holes in the wall of U.S. secrecy, and the world is better for it. As Julian Assange turns 41 in political limbo in Europe, and as Bradley Manning nears 800 days in jail without a court martial, we remember how much good WikiLeaks’ releases have done.”

Aiding the public is not “aiding the enemy”: “The prosecution contends that Manning can be charged with “aiding the enemy” if he merely knew that a third party, and in this case America’s enemies, could access information he released online. But Coombs argues, as the ACLU has argued, that this is wildly overbroad, leaving any information a soldier posted online vulnerable to this type of prosecution.”

Bradley Manning, military resistance, and the left: “While this bodes well for the resistance movement and may help breathe new life into antiwar coalitions, it lacks the urgency required to save Bradley Manning now. Ensign observed, “It’s easy to sit in forums and call for [Bradley’s] freedom, but the reality is there’s lots of work left to be done.” Indeed, we who wish to free Bradley from his unwarranted chains have under five months before his court martial trial, in which prosecutors aim to send him to prison for life without parole. Bradley’s case raises scores of issues in the abstract, but we must remember that Bradley Manning the person faces very real punishment for believing his fellow Americans deserved to know what their government does in secret.”

Radio Interviews, other

Reporting on Ft. Meade with Radio Dispatch

Bradley Manning summer recap

Bradley Manning supporters among plaintiffs of NDAA indefinite detention injunction

WikiLeaks volunteer and Bradley Manning Support Network advisory board member, Birgitta Jonsdottir, who produced “Collateral Murder” helicopter video, fears retaliation

[First posted for the Bradley Manning Support Network on May 17, 2012.]

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest delivered an important victory for civil liberties with an injunction late Wednesday prohibiting enforcement of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. Noted supporters of PFC Bradley Manning were among those given standing to proceed, on the grounds that the vague language in Section 1021′s provision allowing for indefinite military detention curtails their free speech and due process rights.

Birgitta Jonsdottir — a member of the Icelandic Parliament who helped produce the “Collateral Murder” video allegedly released by PFC Manning — expressed concern in her affidavit that her work in support of WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning could endanger her future Constitutionally protected endeavors.

“[Jonsdottir] stated that Manning allegedly leaked the footage that formed the basis for the video “Collateral Murder.”  She has received a subpoena for her Twitter and other social media accounts for materials relating to Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. Jonsdottir stated that due to that subpoena, and now in addition due to the passage of § 1021, she is fearful of travelling to the U.S.”

In a prior hearing, government lawyers representing the defendants (the most prominent being President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Pannetta) had refused to offer the judge a single example of “what it means to substantially support associated forces” of terrorism. In Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Forrest affirmed that Jonsdottir had a legitimate reason to be concerned over the government’s refusal to explicitly exclude her work from the provision’s scope:

“Failure to be able to make such a representation… requires the court to assume that, in fact, the government takes the position that a wide swath of expressive and associational conduct is in fact encompassed by 1021.”

Government agents have already actively targeted supporters of Bradley Manning, such as Support Network co-founder David House.  House recently secured standing in a separate lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security due to a politically motivated search and seizure of his laptop and other electronic equipment.

Given the U.S. government’s Twitter subpoena and harsh treatment of other supporters of PFC Manning, Jonsdottir has already been forced to curtail her freedom of speech. She has had to decline invitations to speak in the United States out of concern that she could be held indefinitely if the government chose to interpret the provision against her.

However, Jonsdottir is inspired by Judge Forrest’s injunction.  Speaking to a representative of the Bradley Manning Support Network this morning, she added:

“Those who criticize their government should never be made to fear the prospect of life in prison.  And yet, a judge has just agreed that I have a legitimate reason to be concerned for doing nothing more than helping Bradley Manning to expose the unjust killing of civilians and journalists.”

Jonsdottir is referring to the Collateral Murder video Bradley allegedly released to WikiLeaks, which shows U.S. Apache soldiers gunning down Reuters journalists and Iraqi civilians coming to aid the wounded. Spc. Ethan McCord, who can be seen in the video carrying a wounded child to safety, has stated that this video “belongs in the public record.” For allegedly exposing this video and classified cables documenting other war crimes and governmental abuse, Bradley faces trial and a potential life sentence for “aiding the enemy,” instead of being rewarded for aiding the public.

Government prosecutors have been utilizing a similarly broad, flawed, and dangerous interpretation of the “aiding the enemy” charge in Bradley’s case.  They have conceded that Bradley’s intentions were “pure” and they refuse to discuss any evidence of actual harm to national security caused by WikiLeaks — because there isn’t any.  Vice President Biden long ago confirmed that fact. As the ACLU has noted, government prosecutors have gone way too far in their interpretation of the law. If they succeed in their retaliation against Bradley, they will have established an alarming precedent: that any soldier risks life in prison any time they speak to the press, because even a harmless, unintentional revelation of restricted information could be interpreted as aiding terrorism.

But this NDAA injunction is a step toward progress. It is heartening that Judge Forrest agrees that open-ended threats must not be used to suppress our First Amendment right to speak out — especially those who are supporting whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning.

Bradley Manning is scheduled to resume a series of pre-trial hearings at Fort Meade from June 6 – 8.

Bradley Manning supporters among plaintiffs of NDAA indefinite detention injunction