On Tuesday 8 November, the night of the US election, regulars from the Julian Assange solidarity vigil and other London-based supporters of Chelsea Manning came together on the streets for an evening of support and protest, joining the London Guantanamo Campaign’s election night demonstration at the US embassy.
The evening began, however, with a gathering at the regular Ecuadorian embassy vigil between 4pm and 6pm. Here 9 people met up, including a couple of new supporters whose developing interest in WikiLeaks and Ecuador’s protection of Assange had caused them to come and visit. Vigil regulars were able to engage and inform, with both visitors looking to return in future – one actually following us on to Grosvenor Square immediately after.
Julian Assange’s predicament has attained new and renewed attention as a result of WikiLeaks’ releases in the run-up to the US election. Many in the US in particular have become engaged with the organisation’s work, now realising the value of the transparency organisation and the heavy price that whistleblowers and truth-tellers pay for their endeavours. There is heightened concern over Assange’s well-being, and the conditions that he is subject to. The government of Ecuador recently explained its decision to temporarily sever Assange’s internet access at the embassy, further increasing his isolation. WikiLeaks claim never to have published material from the premises, and they continue to publish their disclosures without interruption. Nonetheless, interest in and support for Julian seems palpable, and there seems an up-swell in goodwill towards him, noticeable even on the streets of London.
Moving from one embassy to another, a group of us braved the rush-hour traffic to join the London Guantanamo Campaign, as we had on election night 4 years ago, at Grosvenor Square. We were met by a sizeable police and security operation, apparently appropriate and necessary for a gathering of the-great-and-the-good within the building. A full cordoning of the square and what amounted to a containment operation shunted the demonstration into a corner, less visible to guests and passersby. LGC’s orange Gitmo suits always attract attention however, and the passion of the speakers, flurry of photographers and film-makers meant that we caught the eye, were seen and heard.
Speakers included Maya Evans (Voice for Creative Non-Violence UK) speaking of her personal experiences in Afghanistan and the effects of Western foreign policies on that country, Asif Uddin (Justice4Anis) on the detention of Anis Sardar, followed by the Guantanamo Justice Campaign on the UK government’s relationship with Guantanamo. Old friend Giorgio Riva of (Payday Men’s Network) spoke passionately about Chelsea Manning and up-coming planned events on her birthday: confirmed actions so far in London, Philadelphia & San Francisco on Sat 17 December – we will be joining the London event. (see below for links)
Aisha Maniar then spoke on behalf of (Dr Aafia Siddiqui), reading a moving statement from sister Dr Fowzia Siddiqui that thanked all those campaigning to free Aafia. A victim of kidnap, rendition and torture for an extended period at Bagram, spurious charges and a subsequent US trial – without Siddiqui’s participation – have resulted in an 86-year prison sentence. (more information below)
A lively open mic session followed with speakers telling of personal reasons for becoming involved in campaigning for the close of Guantanamo and the release of political prisoners. This included accounts of how neighbours and members of local communities had been caught up in the war on terror, sent to Guantanamo and never charged.
Free Chelsea Manning
During the evening I spoke about Chelsea Manning’s significance to our knowledge of the workings of Guantanamo and the detainees gathered across the world to populate it. The Gitmo Files, provided by Manning and published by WikiLeaks, detail bounty-hunted innocents, rendition, torture, coercion and corruption used to create and propagate the facility itself, and indeed the Bush-era wars.
There followed a brief update on Chelsea’s situation. Her appeal, citing vague and lacking evidence in prosecution and her conditions of punishment before trial, was filed in May this year. More recently though, Chelsea’s detention in Leavenworth has been marked by deeply concerning cycles of continued mistreatment, alongside lack of the duty of care and medical treatment that she has won in legal challenges. A suicide attempt in July was recently punished by a 7-day spell in solitary confinement, during which a second suicide attempt was made. This, it appears, will result in further solitary punishment. Chelsea’s lawyer, Chase Strangio, summarised events bleakly last week:
“she has repeatedly been punished for trying to survive and is now repeatedly being punished for trying to die…..her attorneys have limited access to her and we are going to visit her in coming weeks to make sure she is OK”
It is incredible that authorities are still flouting procedure and process in Manning’s case: her solitary detention seemingly rushed through without formal notice and opportunity for appeal. Her legal team appear at times marginalised, amid a generally disdainful atmosphere where Chelsea has to scrap, to extreme lengths, for equal care, rights and treatment already agreed. When Manning fights and wins, retaliation comes her way.
Apart from unbelievable bravery and tenacity, what Chelsea Manning does possess, is support. Supporters’ attention, the world’s attention, has helped her before – assisting the removal of her ‘Prevention of Injury’ status (de facto torture conditions) whilst awaiting trial in Quantico. Now is the time to challenge her treatment at Leavenworth. To share it, talk about it and turn the spotlight back on the authorities there. Contact them. Protest, be seen and heard. Call for her release.
Talk among us on Tuesday evening was of a sense of ‘business as usual’ from the next US president and administration towards those we support; Obama’s broken promises on Guantanamo, Clinton’s call to drone-kill Assange. I guess you should never take things for granted.
WikiLeaks’ publications during the election campaign have cut through media alignments and spin to reveal truths of the US political system and class. Political establishments received a thumbs-down from people tired of lies, duplicity, warmongering and a paradigm that ignored them. In this, the importance and value of transparency to inform decisions cannot be denied. Why we need whistleblowers has been reaffirmed. Why we should respect and protect them should be obvious. Truth is truth and, ultimately, it benefits us all. Those who deliver truth to us should be thanked and celebrated. Where they are sanctioned and detained for doing so, they should be pardoned, freed.
A president who went to war on whistleblowers is leaving office in a few weeks. What chance he may right some of those wrongs? Will he allow the torture of a courageous young patriot to continue – likely to a tragic and murderous consequence – or will he bring her her freedom? What weight of public opinion can be brought to bear on him in this time? In this climate of change an incoming president who speaks positively of whistleblowers and pledges new, outsider values will need to unify his nation and try to heal wounds. What chance a new chapter where whistleblowing and acts of conscience that serve the country are concerned? This is a rare and valuable moment. We have to use it.
End the war on whistleblowers. Pardon Edward Snowden and other truth-tellers. End the WikiLeaks grand jury investigation and call off the Swedish favours. Make Julian Assange a free man. Pardon Chelsea Manning, let her be.
Leaders are listening right now. Be heard.
Links and further information:
Voice for Creative Non-Violence http://vcnv.org.uk/
Justice for Anis Sardar Campaign http://justice4anis.com/
Payday Men’s Network http://www.refusingtokill.net/
Further Information on Dr Aafia Siddiqui case https://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/saving-prisoner-650-dr-aafia-siddiqui/
Official statement by government of Ecuador re London embassy internet access Here
WikiLeaks Editorial Board statement on the status of Julian Assange, Ecuador and the Us election https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/790353988642299904?lang=en