As peace groups and supporters of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning plan for a large rally outside Fort Meade in Maryland over the weekend, the officials at the military base say they will shutter the main gate and possibly close off local traffic throughout the day.
The planned protest comes just days before Manning's official military trial begins on Monday. If convicted on all counts, Manning could face life in prison.
Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people are scheduled to attend the demonstration on Saturday, calling Manning a hero—not a criminal—for releasing thousands of classified military documents and other material that showed the inner workings of how the Bush administration was executing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a video of innocent civilians being gunned down by US soldiers.
In a recent statement, Daniel Ellsberg, famous for his release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War era and an outspoken critic of government's prosecution of whistleblowers, said the event will shine a light on the courageousness of Manning's actions.
"In releasing documents and videos to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, PFC Manning made an enormously positive impact on world events," said Ellsberg. "He revealed the terrifying misdeeds by American and coalition forces, such as the 2007 Baghdad airstrike that targeted and killed at least 12 Iraqi civilians. He opened a new pathway for truth and justice to reach the world, perhaps preventing the next unjust war from ever beginning. He even helped inspire a new, global movement for openness and democracy, ringing out from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. To me, and many others, Bradley is a hero."
Ellsberg will speak at Saturday's rally, which is being organized by the Bradley Manning Support Network, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink, and others. Also speaking at the rally will be Ethan McCord, a soldier who saved the children seen in the "Collateral Murder" video leaked by Manning and released by WikiLeaks.
“Bradley Manning is a hero who wanted to aid the public, not a traitor who wanted to aid the enemy, ”said Gerry Condon, a spokesperson for Veterans For Peace. “It is a shame that our nation did not pay more attention to the information he shared with us three years ago. Many lives could have been saved - hundreds of Afghani civilians and hundreds of U.S. soldiers.”
Ellsberg urged concerned citizens to come out in support of Manning, saying his persecution by the government was a direct assault on transparency, accountability, and the public's right to know about the acts performed in their name.
"There are those in government who rely on crimes and secrets," said Ellsberg, "who will seek to punish him and dissuade others from offering truth to the American people. Mercifully, the Vietnam War did end, and many consider the release of the Pentagon Papers to have helped. With your assistance, Bradley’s impact can be even greater."