Article by Ciaron O’Reilly
In 2010 a young U.S. soldier was arrested in Baghdad, transferred to Kuwait, placed in a small cage and tortured, then later transferred to Quantico U.S. Marine base Virginia U.S.A. and systematically tortured for a further nine months. PfC Manning’s “crime” had been to expose U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The exposure had taken place through WikiLeaks, whose editor Julian Assange was then detained without charge in London in December 2010. Initially jailed in HMP Wandsworth, Assange was first granted strict bail conditions by the High Court, then electronically tagged as he was dragged through the British courts. I organised solidarity vigils outside every court appearance from Horseferry Magistrates to Woolwich to the High and Supreme Courts. Gareth Peirce, the lawyer who freed the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, began to represent Julian at the appeal level. A few of us began to take responsibility for getting Julian in and out of court safely through a huge and intimidating press pack.
In 2012 Julian found sanctuary from persecution by the U.S. government in the embassy of Ecuador located near Harrods, in the upmarket Knightsbridge area of London.
Some members of the Catholic Worker and friends in and around London were among the few anti-war activists to take solidarity action with Manning and Assange, both of whom were largely abandoned by the anti-war organisations and liberal-left NGOs. Manning and Assange, who had done so much to expose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that literally millions had marched against, were left hung out to dry by a timid and negligent anti-war leadership in England, running scared as usual from any serious confrontation with empire. A closer analysis exposes that this is par for the course for those who move beyond the predictable cattle drives of moral posturing and ineffectual protest into nonviolent resistance. The gentleman’s agreement that “you can have your protest if we can have our war” had been transgressed by Assange, Manning, scores of resisters within the military and a few in civil society. As Phil Berrigan often reflected, it’s a case of “warm friends cooling” between those who seek mainstream acceptance and the resister when the state clamps down.
For me, committing myself to proactive solidarity with Manning and Assange was quite personal as I had spent 13 months as a prisoner of the United States for my role in the disabling of a B52 Bomber on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. I knew from my own experiences as a political prisoner the significance of solidarity as the only anti-venom to the mechanisms of the imperial state that are designed to isolate, demoralise and crush nonviolent anti-war resistance.
Whenever PfC Manning was brought to military court at NSA HQ Ft Meade Maryland, we along with Veterans for Peace and others maintained a presence outside the U.S. embassy in London. We would conduct a silent vigil facing the embassy as we played the haunting audio from the infamous collateral murder video published by WikiLeaks.
During this time we also visited a young Royal Navy medic Michael Lyons who had refused to deploy to Afghanistan after reading the WikiLeaks released cables, having come to the conclusion that it was an immoral war. We not only staged solidarity vigils outside Colchester military prison and visited Michael there, but accomplished significant fund raising to support his partner who was facing eviction at the time. It has been a wonderful journey with Michael as we threw him a “welcome out of jail party” on his release and he is now an active member of Veterans for Peace, studying at university and a guitarist in a thriving Brighton punk band “Worthy Victims”.
Meanwhile, Manning refused to break under torture and declined to invent a story that would implicate Julian Assange. Later Assange would offer Edward Snowden similar solidarity as Sarah Harrison from WikiLeaks travelled to Hong Kong to facilitate his escape from U.S. authorities following his exposure of N.S.A. mass surveillance. The truth is that if it wasn’t for Sarah Harrison and Julian Assange, Edward Snowden would be in U.S. custody now. Both Oliver Stone’s recent movie “Snowden” and the original Laura Poitras “Citizen 4” are well with watching.
For the past four and a half years, a small group of people has maintained a regular (now 4x a week) solidarity vigil outside the Ecuadorian embassy. Their fidelity to standing in solidarity with Julian is truly as sacred as it is inspirational. They bring their own lived experiences of the coup in Chile, torture in Colombia and persecution in Ireland to this act of solidarity with Julian Assange under the cosh in their city of London.
Following the 2013 sentencing of Chelsea Manning to 35 years imprisonment, Wales-based solidarity activist Genny Bove and I made our way to Pembrokeshire to see if we could offer Chelsea’s Welsh mother Susan, aunts, uncles and extended family more proactive solidarity. This too has been a wonderful human story of solidarity, especially
Genny’s steadfast accompaniment of the family over the past three years. One of the best ideas we had off the bat was to take the family on a solidarity visit to Dublin, the birthplace of Chelsea Manning’s maternal grandfather Billy Fox. It was the first time they had been with a large group of people who had supported what their loved one had done. Gerry Conlon of the Guilford 4 travelled down from Belfast and gave an impassioned speech in support of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and whistleblowers.
Public meetings & meetings with with politicians were complemented with much music and celebration. Irish actor and playwright Donal O’Kelly took rapid initiative and within 6 weeks a group of Irish artists and musicians were making a return solidarity visit to the family in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. Since then, there has been an organic evolution of a beautiful relationship of solidarity around Chelsea and the family between Dublin and Pembrokeshire.
A month ago I travelled with the “Chelsea Manning Support Band” from Dublin to Chelsea’s Uncle Kevin’s 65th birthday party. Kevin continues his struggle with cancer. Last week a group of Irish politicians led by celebrated James Joyce scholar Senator David Norris assembled outside the Dail to celebrate Chelsea’s 29th birthday, also pleading for U.S. President Obama to grant Chelsea Manning a pardon or a commutation of sentence to time served. President Obama was initially elected as an anti-war candidate describing the U.S. invasion of Iraq as a “stupid war” and pledging to protect whistleblowers. He has gone on to prosecute far more whistleblowers far more aggressively than any President in U.S. history.
On the Monday before Christmas, Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 153 federal inmates, the most on a signal day by any U.S. President in history. This brought the total for his presidency to more than 1,150 with the overwhelming majority issued this past year.Obama also issued 78 presidential pardons. Most of these are for drug related offences. There is no excuse for him not to grant a commutation of sentence or pardon to Chelsea Manning who acted without criminal intent in exposing war crimes.Chelsea is now in the 7th year of imprisonment. We were all shocked and saddened to hear reports of two suicide attempts by Chelsea in recent months. As Catholic Workers we are called to nonviolent resistance to war, tending the wounds of the victims of war and to offer proactive solidarity with anti-war resisters.
Free Chelsea Manning! Free Julian Assange! Free Edward Snowden!
Donations for Manning Family Fund.
Donations for Chelsea Manning Defence Fund.
Donations for Julian Assange Defence Fund.
Donations for WikiLeaks.
Solidarity letters & postcards:
Chelsea E. Manning 89289
1300 North Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304
Embassy of Ecuador
3 Hans Crescent
London SW1X 0LS.