In a small military court room at Fort Meade, two weeks after he was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, I watched Bradley Manning appear before a judge – for the second time in his 635-day stint of pre-trial detainment. He sat silently while the prosecution read his 22 charges.
We won't hear his plea until the hearing is continued in March. Manning will likely be tried in early August. If all goes to plan for the prosecution, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Before the charges were read, Manning's attorney asked the judge about her prior knowledge of the case, the issues surrounding it, and any previous opinions she may have had about it. She stated that she had known nothing of the case besides Manning's name "and that it involved classified material". When asked if she had spoken to friends or colleagues about the case, she said she hadn't. She held no prior opinion, we were told.
For what must be the biggest controversy of the decade, I found this hard to believe. It reaffirmed my skepticism and brought to mind what many have already said: this trial is a sham.
President Obama, ultimately the judge's commander, does have an opinion about the matter – as he told me when I asked for his view at a fundraiser in San Francisco last April, at the end of Manning's extended solitary confinement at Quantico Marine Base.
In his mind, Bradley Manning was already guilty. The conversation was caught on tape, and legal experts have argued that the president's statement should be grounds for dismissal.
Some people are held to the law and others are not. Recalling the killing of journalists working for Reuters in the "Collateral Murder" video allegedly released by Manning, this is exactly this kind of selective enforcement that motivated WikiLeaks' revelations – and which brought me and my peers to Zuccotti Park last fall to use the only means we have to hold accountable those whose criminal acts brought us to economic crisis.
A generation before Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg understood that some laws were worth breaking to expose and bring accountability to far greater crimes. Ellsberg tried to voice his grievances within his chain of command, as Manning did, before being ignored.
I have heard many people justify the government's treatment of Manning simply because of the risks he allegedly took. "He should have known better," they say, missing the point. Asked in 1971 if he was prepared to go to prison for releasing the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg's reply was simple: "Wouldn't you go to jail to end this war?"
Ellsberg's stand came back to me, sitting at Manning's arraignment. "I want people to see the truth," Bradley is alleged to have typed to the hacker who turned him in.
As the judge announced the recess and prepared to leave the room, someone stood up and shouted: "Your honor! Isn't it a soldier's responsibility to report war crimes?"
The judge silently looked away. It's an argument that the court will have to contend with, before the trial ends. When that happens, I hope the world is watching.