The Pride of San Francisco

By Simon Wood

“The mission of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration Committee is to educate the world, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture, and liberate our people” – Mission Statement (SF Pride website)

Great change can often come about from seemingly innocuous events; the phenomenon seemingly random. Over a hundred Tibetan monks have set fire to themselves in protest of China’s occupation without (so far) engendering change, yet it took the tragic immolation of only one street vendor in Tunisia, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, to spark the Arab Spring.

In an interview, Noam Chomsky spoke of this when asked about the effectiveness of direct action:

Direct action carries the message forward in a very dramatic fashion. For one thing it can help people. So resisting foreclosure sometimes does help people get into their homes, but it also dramatizes the issue in a way in which words don’t. Direct action means putting yourself on the line. That’s true of civil disobedience and many other types of action, which indicate a depth of commitment and clarification of the issues, which sometimes does stir other people to do something. That’s what resistance and civil disobedience were always about.

In fact, direct action has often been the preliminary to really major changes. Revolutionary changes, in fact. In the United States the sit-down strikes of the 1930s were a major impetus for passing significant New Deal legislation. The reason is that manufacturers could perceive that a sit-down strike was just one step before taking over the enterprise, kicking out the owners and managers, and saying ‘we’ll run it ourselves.’ Which can be done, and it’s the real revolutionary change. Changes the structure of hierarchy, domination, ownership, and so on. And direct actions of the sit-down strikes were dramatic indication of that.

The same was true of, say, the civil rights movements. Things that had been going on forever, hundreds of years, but what sparked it were a couple incidents of direct action. Rosa Parks insisting on sitting in a bus. Greensboro, North Carolina a couple years later. Black students sitting at a lunch counter, and these things then took off and became major movements with a lot of consequences. Without the direct action that probably wouldn’t have happened. You could do as many speeches as you like and it wouldn’t have had the effect of those actions.

This is potentially occurring again. Overruling a committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals, the president of the organization, Lisa Williams, said that Bradley Manning would not in fact be honored as a grand marshal at this year’s parade on June 29th-30th.

lisawilliamsLisa Williams should be congratulated for just two things: first, for inadvertently attracting much-needed world attention to Manning’s case; and second, for bringing out the best in the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote one of his finest articles in response. Everything that needs to be said about the pathetic authoritarian mindset of Williams is there and nothing needs to be added…a first-rate piece.

However, a perusal of the online comments of many supporters of SF Pride’s decision demonstrates that there remain many misconceptions about the Bradley Manning case, most likely as a result of both indifference of most casual news readers beyond the most basic details of any complex issue, and also because articles on Manning often contain basic errors. In this article, for example, the writer states in the very first paragraph that Manning is ‘currently serving three years in prison for military espionage’. This is not only a grievous error, as Manning is of course still awaiting trial, but it also gives the impression the Manning has already been found guilty of spying, thereby negatively influencing the views of hitherto neutral or uninformed readers. It is not surprising that many believe Manning to be guilty: Barack Obama himself, a former civil rights attorney, once said of Manning: “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. … He broke the law.”

The key question for most people appears to be: is Manning a traitor or not? It is vital, therefore, that we examine this question in detail.

First, define treason:

Oran’s Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as a “citizen’s actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation].”

It is also considered treason in many nations to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, but as Manning never directly tried to do this, no further discussion on this particular point is required.

Did Manning commit any of the crimes in the definition above?

Since Manning leaked the cables, no foreign government (or terrorist organization) has attempted to ‘overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure’ the United States.

How about potential plots we don’t know about? As an earlier article on this blog has explained, none of the information released could cause any damage to the US for two main reasons:

  1. Of the 251,287 diplomatic cables leaked by Manning, over 130,000 were in fact ‘unclassified’; around 100,000 were ‘confidential’; and about 15,000 were labeled ‘secret’. None of the cables were ‘top secret’.
  2. More than three million low-level officials and staff had access to these very same cables. Does anyone seriously believe that keeping these cables secret was important to the US government if three million staff could access them? One does not protect embedded agents in dangerous roles by allowing three million low-level staff access to detailed information on their identity or location. For any enemy to seriously threaten the US, they would need to have enormous funding to even make a dent. Is it logical to believe that these rich enemies could not find and pay off just one person to provide them with this allegedly super-secret data and bring about the downfall of the world’s only superpower? If anything, this case demonstrates US security to be woefully lax and its guardians negligent.

Just to round off the argument about whether serious harm has come to the United States as a result of this leak, the US government itself admitted it lied about the potential impact of the leaks in order to bolster legal efforts against Wikileaks and related entities. From the article (see original for linked sources):

You may recall that when Wikileaks released those thousands of documents on the Afghan war, the official US government position was that it should be shamed for putting lives in danger and “compromising intelligence sources and methods.” It was only months later that Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted no such thing was true. We’re now seeing the same thing with the State Department cable leak. A number of grandstanding officials such as Rep. Peter King and Senator Joe Lieberman have argued that these leaks have seriously harmed US diplomacy. In fact, we heard how Wikileaks should be designated a terrorist organization for all the “harm” it’s done to US interests. This was also a common refrain in our comments — especially when it came to stories about the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning. Over and over we were told he deserves no mercy for harming American interests.

So… it seems rather interesting to see that US officials are now admitting that no serious “harm” has been caused by the leaks. In fact, the White House has admitted privately that it purposely lied about the supposed impact ” in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.” Implicated as chief among the official liars: State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley, who lead the propaganda campaign against Wikileaks for the past few months, claiming “there has been substantial damage,” and that “hundreds of people have been put at potential risk.” And yet, when Congress asked the State Department to back up those statements, officials told them it really wasn’t that big of a deal: “We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

Not only have we established that it is in fact the fault of US security that this information came out, but the US government itself admits that no harm has come about from the leaks.

If no harm has been done, and none can be done in the future, Bradley Manning is no traitor.

Because he is a whistleblower, a hero of democracy.

The term whistleblower was coined in 1972 by Ralph Nader to describe a person who, as an act of public service, informed the population at large of corruption or wrongdoing by private companies, organizations or local/national authorities. The term was chosen to avoid the negative connotations of the words ‘snitch’ and ‘informer’. The US public is perhaps most familiar with Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the so-called ‘Pentagon Papers’ (which was designated ‘top-secret’, by the way), and is widely revered as a hero.

From Barack Obama’s own 2008 campaign literature (pdf):

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

Manning’s status as a whistleblower can be proved as we clear up some remaining common misconceptions:

1. Manning leaked the information for profit or attention.

Manning has made no money from these leaks, and never expressed any such desire. As for seeking attention, that his identity is known at all is the sole work of Adrian Lamo, the man in whom Manning confided, and the man who turned him in to the authorities. [Aside: perhaps a more accurate definition of the word ‘traitor’ can be sought within that particular tale.]

From their chat logs:

Bradley Manning: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?

Bradley Manning: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…

Bradley Manning: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people

Bradley Manning: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Adrian Lamo: What sort of content?

Bradley Manning: uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis

Bradley Manning: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed… Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it

Adrian Lamo: what kind of scandal?

Bradley Manning: hundreds of them

Adrian Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.

Bradley Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals

Adrian Lamo: play it by ear

Bradley Manning: the broiling one in Germany

Bradley Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized

Bradley Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians

Bradley Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this

Adrian Lamo: what do you consider the highlights?

Bradley Manning: The Gharani airstrike videos and full report, Iraq war event log, the “Gitmo Papers”, and State Department cable database

2. Manning broke the chain of command by releasing the cables.

Manning went to his superiors about his concerns but was told to shut his mouth and get on with his job. If you consider yourself a person of conscience, put yourself in his position for a moment: you have proof that your government and military has murdered civilians and committed other grievous, criminal acts, but you are told by a superior to keep quiet. It is your Nuremburg moment. What do you do? A courageous and honest person, the person our parents and teachers always tell us we should be, would find another way to get the information out.

Manning contacted The New York Times and and The Washington Post but they failed to respond. As a last resort, Manning turned to Wikileaks.

It must be constantly kept in mind that mainstream newspapers regularly report news based on leaks, often of a much higher secrecy level than the cables leaked by Manning – The New York Times and other newspapers reported on the top-secret Pentagon Papers, for example, after receiving them directly from Ellsberg.

In other words, if Manning is a traitor and Wikileaks is a terrorist organization, this must also hold true for major newspapers all over the world (including the US) and also the ‘unnamed sources’ releasing the information.

It doesn’t. What does that tell you about the vindictive persecution of Manning, Wikileaks (and Julian Assange) and other whistleblowers?

Other common misconceptions regarding Manning are addressed here.

This article concludes with a direct message to Lisa Williams…

In rescinding Manning’s nomination as grand marshal, you made the following comment:

“…even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride.”

The US government itself admits that no harm has come about, and, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, given that numerous sources have credited the cables leak with forcing Obama to withdraw the troops before he wanted to, lives have unquestionably been saved. One US veteran on Twitter therefore sums up the likely feelings of many toward you for that statement:


I appreciate what Bradley #Manning did for me and all vets out there. Saved us from getting killed in #Iraq. @SFPride Go fuck yourself.

Perhaps, Ms. Williams, you should begin your education by watching this video released by Wikileaks (thanks to Manning), known as Collateral Murder. After watching it, ask yourself why the US public, which funds US wars with their tax dollars, had this video hidden from them. Was it national security? Or was it simply because it documents criminal actions that would greatly embarrass the US government? You stated that you do not support actions that put civilians in danger…please try to square that with what you see in the video.

The LGBT community, like all subjected to persecution, prejudice, injustice and violence must reaffirm their commitment to Manning and people like him, people who stand up to the establishment at great personal risk and cost to their freedom. Reinstate him as a grand marshal and history may remember this as a significant moment in the fight against a deeply corrupt government. Fail to do so and you will go down in history as just another in a long line of establishment collaborators, yet another citizen eager to fall to his or her knees before power.

That, of course, should be your last act as chairperson. No apology will suffice because your slavishly pro-establishment views, so antithetical to the traditionally progressive, dissenting views of the LGBT community, are crystal clear: your position is now untenable. Only your resignation, and hopefully the election of someone with actual strength of character, will be enough for the observers made sick to the stomach by your cowardly statement and subsequent silence.

And to all those who still think of Manning as a traitor: you don’t deserve him. Manning has been imprisoned in conditions described by the UN rapporteur on torture as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ for 1069 days…FOR YOU! To protect YOU! Not for money, not attention…but to inform your ungrateful, ignorant selves of the jaw-dropping crimes committed in secret by your elected officials and their goons. Why is it so hard for you to believe that your government commits illegal or immoral acts? Read here and here for a very long list.

If you had even a tiny fraction of the courage and integrity Bradley Manning so obviously possesses in his little finger, you would be smashing down the doors of the White House demanding not only that your Nobel laureate president immediately release him with an apology, significant compensation, and thanks for his services to transparent democracy, but also that he hand over the Peace Prize to a man who actually deserves it.

The 99.99998271% – Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy‘ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.

Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Author’s note: For over a year I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy and human rights. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference. Bitcoins are also gratefully accepted.

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