When we heard that Tim Price’s powerful play ‘The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning’ was to be performed by National Theatre Wales in schools in Pembrokeshire, Cardiff and Flintshire during April, starting with Tasker Milward, the school Bradley attended as a teenager in Haverfordwest, it seemed an ideal opportunity to organise a series of solidarity actions and events to coincide with these performances. Our aim was to raise awareness of, share information about and generate support for this young man with Welsh roots who has been held for almost two years without trial in America accused of blowing the whistle on war crimes and revealing other truths the US would have preferred to keep buried. Bradley Manning has been tortured and denied his constitutional rights. President Obama, Commander-in-Chief of the military, has already said he’s guilty and has therefore irrevocably prejudiced the upcoming court martial as well as breaking – and not for the first time – his pre-election promise to protect whistleblowers.
WISE Up (WISE = Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English) is a loose network of groups and individuals campaigning for Bradley Manning. We call for all charges against Bradley Manning to be dropped and for his immediate release. Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime!
The play premiered in Haverfordwest on 12th April, with a press conference the day before attended by ex-SAS soldier and Veteran for Peace Ben Griffin. We went along as a group on the first night to watch this insightful and moving piece of theatre, handing out flyers, stickers and other information after this and almost every other performance of the play in all three locations across Wales. On the morning of 12th, ex-prisoner of the US and Catholic Worker Ciaron O’Reilly, Vicky Moller of Cymru Friends of Bradley Manning and Ben Griffin were at Cardigan Pwllhai local produce market with a Bradley Manning stall, while I met Bradley Manning’s uncle while leafleting on the street in Haverfordwest. He said that he was worried about how he would react to the play if it didn’t portray Bradley accurately and for that reason was reluctant to attend. However, he did come along to the performance that night with a couple of Bradley’s cousins, other members of the family attended the other two nights including Bradley’s mum on the Saturday and all responded favourably.
On Friday 13th April, there was an event for Bradley Manning at the local Picton community centre in Haverfordwest, the interactive exhibition including a mock-up of the 6′ x 12′ cell at Quantico where Bradley was held in solitary confinement and a recording of words attributed to Bradley Manning about his concerns and motivation. Ben Griffin and Ciaron O’Reilly spoke on the subject ‘War in the 21st century’, Ben from the point of view of an ex-SAS soldier turned peace activist and Ciaron from the point of view of an anti-war activist of some 30 years standing who has spent around two years in different jails for disarmament actions. The exhibition was left in place for those attending a Transition supper at the same venue that evening. Vicky Moller hosted further talks by Ben and Ciaron on Saturday 14th near Newport. They headed back to London on Sunday, while Anthony Timmons, Lindi Carter and I continued on to Cardiff for the next leg.
Solidarity events and actions in Cardiff ran for a total of nine days. For this whole period, Guy Smallman’s photo exhibition ‘Afghanistan 10 years on’ occupied prominent space on the 2nd floor of Cardiff’s new Central Library, along with a Bradley Manning information stall that included the recorded reading of Bradley Manning ‘in his own words’. These two installations were open to the public during normal library opening times and attracted a lot of interest, in particular from people of middle eastern origin. On the evening of 16th April, there was a lecture at Cardiff University hosted by Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), the main speaker being ex-UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray who spoke about his experience of whistleblowing, followed by a discussion and questions from the floor. Guy Smallman gave a short introductory speech to this meeting, explaining his connection with Bradley Manning through the massacre at Granai. Granai is an Afghan village that was bombed by the US in 2009 killing many civilians. Guy visited the village soon afterwards and took photos, while Bradley is reported to have leaked the cockpit video from the bombers, still being decrypted by WikiLeaks.
On Wednesday 18th, Anthony and I spent a morning at Chapter Arts in Canton with our quiz board and info stall. It was still school holidays, so we had a lot of children passing through. People wrote letters of solidarity to Bradley, others tried their hand at the quiz, took flyers and stickers and stopped to talk. Other days we were busy putting up posters and distributing flyers, spending time in the library at the exhibition and making links with Cardiff activists. Thanks to CND Cymru and Red Kite Print, we had bilingual briefing papers on Bradley Manning to hand out along with our other materials. In the evenings, we drove out of town to Cardiff High School to distribute flyers and information after each performance.
During the day on Saturday 21st, two of us attended the Campaign Against Arms Trade regional meeting in Cardiff where we had a stall for Bradley Manning. People took information, signed up for the WISE Up email list and wrote solidarity letters to Bradley. That evening, the Red and Black Umbrella squatted social centre in Adamsdown hosted a big-screen showing of the play on live stream followed by a discussion.
On Sunday afternoon, we were out on the streets with a multiple banner hang at the major road junction of North Road and Boulevard de Nantes at the entrance to Bute Park and in front of Cardiff Castle. This is quite a busy spot at any time but the Royal Horticultural Show in the park meant there was a constant stream of people walking past the banners. There was a comedy night planned for Sunday evening. It was a lovely venue and a shame more people didn’t turn up, but we enjoyed great music from Jack Omer including his song for Bradley.
Bradley Manning was back in court in the US on Tuesday 24th April. Vigils were held at the US Embassy in London and at Fairford in Gloucestershire, while in Cardiff we organised a day of action for Bradley Manning, with a ‘Free Food, Free Bradley Manning!’ vegeburger and information stall with Food Not Bombs at lunchtime, a banner hang (to dry out our wet banners) in the afternoon and a ‘special sneak preview’ screening of Jim Spione’s Oscar-nominated short documentary film ‘Incident in New Baghdad’ in the evening. The film considers the infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ incident, footage of which Bradley Manning is accused of leaking, from the point of view of Ethan McCord, a US soldier present at the scene who rescued two injured children and who has gone on to speak out against US wars. This event was held at the university, was organised with United Nations Association Cardiff & District and CND Cymru, sponsored by the University of Cardiff Centre for Applied Ethics and attended by around 50 people. Peace activist Ray Davies of CND Cymru chaired the discussion afterwards and a collection raised almost £100 for Bradley Manning’s defence fund.
North east Wales
The play’s run in Flintshire, at Connah’s Quay High School, was from 25th to 28th April. Lindi did most of the after-show leafleting, with Greg and Cassie Ogden standing in on the Wednesday when we had only just arrived from Cardiff.
On Friday 27th April eight whistleblowers, along with friends and supporters, met in a room at the Welsh Language Centre in Denbigh to discuss whistleblowing issues from the personal to the global. Several of those present have very recently blown the whistle and are suffering the consequences. With whistleblowing at all levels, the rhetoric is protection, the reality persecution. The group agreed to keep in touch and, together with other whistleblowers who weren’t able to be present, hope to be able to offer one another mutual support and solidarity.
The last event of the tour took place on Sunday 29th April, with a gig for Bradley Manning at the new Welsh cultural centre in Wrecsam: Saith Seren. The evening featured an eclectic mix of music, poetry and prose in English and Welsh. Performers included Lawrence Huxham (who was also MC for the evening), local folk band Offa, Vic Button, Frank Bowman and Hazel Ogden, along with poets Les Barker, Sion Aled Owen, Aled Lewis Evans and Lindi Carter. Bridie Przibram and Lindi read extracts from Bradley Manning ‘in his own words’. Lawrence, Les, Lindi and Siôn Aled performed specially composed pieces for Bradley, while Ian Chesterman of Offa added a final verse for Bradley to the Peter, Paul and Mary song ‘If I were free’. All the performances were relevant and thought-provoking and came together in a fitting finale to a tour dedicated to this brave young man at the mercy of the US for daring to tell the truth.
Wrexham Peace & Justice Forum
WISE Up for Bradley Manning
Play: The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
Review of the play by Ben Griffin
Events in Haverfordwest: photo report
Meeting with Craig Murray: report
A week of solidarity in Cardiff
Bradley Manning back in court: solidarity in Cardiff
Report from whistleblowers meeting in Denbigh
Report on the Wrecsam gig for Bradley Manning
Letters to Bradley: highlights from solidarity messages collected in Wales
Follow WISE Up on Twitter