When we heard on Sunday that P.J. Crowley had resigned as spokesman for the State Department after criticizing the Pentagon's treatment of suspected whistleblower Army private Bradley Manning, my CODEPINK colleagues and I knew we had to respond. How outrageous that yet another person gets punished for simply telling the truth--Crowley called Manning's treatment "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid"--while the war criminals go free. I can think of a lot stronger words to use for the way the Pentagon is holding Manning in solitary confinement for 10 months now, before he has even had a trial or been convicted of anything.
We quickly put out a call for activists to meet us at the State Department at noon and then walk to the White House. About 24 people showed up on short notice, in the middle of a workday. Some donned black and white prison suits, others put on orange Guantanamo jumpsuits, and three brave men--Tighe, Jay and Logan--stripped down to jock straps to symbolize the fact that the prison guards take away Manning's clothing at night, including his underwear. (They justify this because of sarcastic comments Manning had made about using his underwear to commit suicide, but it's really to further intimidate and humiliate him.)
We had a large banner that read: "Crowley was right. Manning's treatment is counterproductive, stupid and ridiculous." It was attached to a mock jail cell with Manning's photos on it. Another banner said "Obama, torturing Bradley Manning is not ok." This referred to President Obama's comments on Friday that he had asked the Pentagon about Manning's confinement and the Pentagon assured him that it was appropriate.
After a brief confrontation with police when we tried to deliver the letter anyway, we began our march. It took us a half hour to reach the White House. The DC denizens were quite shocked to see the motley crew, especially the naked guys, marching down the streets of the capitol chanting "Stop the torture, free Bradley Manning; Stop the forced nudity, free Bradley Manning; Stop the solitary confinement, free Bradley Manning." We also came up with a fun chant that whatever I said, people would respond with Crowley's now famous adjectives: "That's counterproductive, ridiculous and stupid." I'd say "What's Crowley's resignation?" or "What's jailing the truthtellers?" or "What's Obama's response to Manning's torture?" We found, as we marched along, that there are SO MANY things about this issue that are counterproductive, ridiculous and stupid--most of all the wars themselves!
At the White House we were met by another set of cameras and posed for some great shots right in front of the gate. We called on Obama to reread his constitutional law books and give Manning his rights back. We gave a few lessons in civics to visiting students about the need for whistleblowers to speak out against injustice. And we wrapped up promising to meet on Sunday in Quantico--where Manning is being held--to continue our call to "Jail War Criminals, Not Whistleblowers."
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globlaexchange.org). For more info regarding Bradley Manning and to sign a petition to support him, see http://bit.ly/eEYUBm