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Bradley Manning, Eskinder Nega Victims Of Moral Wilderness Of Their Times

August 21, 2013

Pfc. Bradley Manning

 Private Bradley Manning, 25, was sentenced today. Thirty-five years in jail. The 1,182 days he has spent in confinement from the time of his arrest will be reduced from his sentence, and 112 more days for abusive behaviour by his tormentors at Quantico. Under the law he will have to spend at least eight years and credited with good behaviour in prison before parole.
Manning was sentenced Wednesday, August 21, by military judge for multiple offences, including under the Espionage Act, for leaking over 700,000 US government documents to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. Among the material that came to light was a video of a US military operation in Iraq where an Apache helicopter attack killed civilians including two Reuters journalists.
For someone who faced 90 years behind bars, 35 may be seen almost a relief. And that seemed the tone of Manning’s lawyer David Coombs. “Coombs told a group of supporters gathered outside Manning’s courtroom on Friday that the conditions at Fort Leavenworth [where Manning will be incarcerated] ‘did not look anything like Quantico,’ where Manning spent months in solitary confinement and was forced at times to strip down naked at night,” the HuffingtonPost reported.
Although a relief in some ways there are a couple of issues that need to be seen in the right perspective here.
First is that Manning’s treatment at Quantico was pronounced by Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, “as at the minimum cruel, inhuman ad degrading treatment… If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.”
Second, although Fort Leavenworth does “not look anything like Quantico” he is being punished for publicising classified documents that brought to light serious wrongdoing by the US Government. In a statement Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, “Following the targeting of Edward Snowden, the disproportionate sentence for Manning hits hard at whistleblowers and shows how vulnerable they are … The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the United States will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official powers.”

Eskinder Nega

Third is the agony of imprisonment. Another whistleblower, the imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, gives a powerful account of it in a letter smuggled out of jail. Pen America notes that Nega was arrested under the country’s wide anti-terrorism laws in September 2011 for questioning the Ethiopian government for holding journalists under the same legislation. A week before, he had published a critical account of the arrest of another government critic Debebe Eshetu also on terrorism charges. Nega was detained at least six times before. His wife Serkalem Fasil, who was also imprisoned in 2005, gave birth to their child in jail.
Sentenced for 18 years and after he lost his appeal, in a letterhe wrote titled ‘I Shall Persevere’ he said: “The government has been able to lie in a court of law effortlessly as a function of the moral paucity of our politics. All the great crimes of history, lest we forget, have their genesis in the moral wilderness of their times. The mundane details of the case offer nothing substantive but what Christopher Hitchens once described as ‘a vortex of irrationality and nastiness.'”
Manning at Fort Leavenworth might be more comfortable than Nega who says he sleeps in the “company of lice.” But nothing can take away the fact that both are victims of the “moral wilderness of their times.”  
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.