The court martial of Private First Class Bradley Manning has been shrouded in secrecy, which is ironic because he released information to WikiLeaks precisely to reveal this pathological secrecy and to provide transparency.
Faced with the prospect of losing a legal challenge by the Center for Constitutional Rights--which filed a petition requesting the military to grant the public and press access to the government's motion papers, court orders, and transcripts of the proceeding--the Pentagon recently published 84 judicial orders and rulings from the court martial. But this is only a fraction of the 500 documents constituting some 30,000 pages.
Luckily, filmmaker Alexa O'Brien, one of the unsung heroes who regularly attends all of the Manning hearings, has been performing and indispensable public service by exhaustively and painstakingly creating transcripts of the proceedings. Even though O'Brien is a civilian, her work is so thorough and accurate that the military's Public Affairs Office has referred journalists to her transcripts.
True to form, O'Brien published a transcript of Manning's plea ("Providence Inquiry") a week and a half ago.
Oscar-nominated documentarian Laura Poitras has already made a powerful video using the audio and available images.
I have been in the Ft. Meade courtroom for a number of Manning's pre-trial proceedings, but for most of the country, as Freedom of the Press Foundation (recently created to support journalism that combats overreaching government secrecy) notes,
this marks the first time the American public has heard the actual voice of Manning.
While Manning's words are powerful, for many they are an abstraction because Manning has only spoken at length twice--here and in the unlawful pretrial confinement (torture) hearing. Often a whistleblower is invisible, eclipsed by the sh*tstorm over their allegations. Once someone has been criminally charged, any good defense attorney will tell them not to talk for fear of creating impeachable material, or worse yet, fodder for more charges.
It's an incredibly lonely place to be. It's also an information vacuum that prevents contextualization of why someone blew the whistle, leaving the individual to the caricature and smears the government puts forth.