I sat in the courtroom all day Wednesday as Bradley Manning's trial wound its way to a tragic and demoralizing conclusion. I wanted to hear Eugene Debs, and instead I was trapped there, watching Socrates reach for the hemlock and gulp it down. Just a few minutes in and I wanted to scream or shout. I don't blame Bradley Manning for apologizing for his actions and effectively begging for the court's mercy. He's on trial in a system rigged against him. The commander in chief declared him guilty long ago. He's been convicted. The judge has been offered a promotion. The prosecution has been given a playing field slanted steeply in its favor. why should Manning not follow the only advice anyone's ever given him and seek to minimize his sentence? Maybe he actually believes that what he did was wrong. But, wow, does it make for some perverse palaver in the courtroom. This was the sentencing phase of the trial, but there was no discussion of what good or harm might come of a greater or lesser sentence, in terms of deterrence or restitution or prevention or any other goal. That's one thing I wanted to scream ay various points in the proceedings. This was the trial of the most significant whistle-blower in U.S. history, but there was no mention of anything he'd blown the whistle on, any of the crimes exposed or prevented, wars ended, nonviolent democratic movements catalyzed. Nothing on why he's a four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Nothing. Every time that wars are mentioned, I wanted to scream. war was like air in this courtroom, everybody on all sides militarized, and it went unnoticed and unmentioned. What 'was' discussed on Wednesday was what wasn't. Psycho-therapists, and relatives, and Bradley Manning himself, defense witnesses all, testified that had been wrong to do what he'd done, that he'd not been in his right mind, and that he is a likable person to whom the judge should be kind. Should likable people get lesser sentences? The
prosecution focused, with much less success I think, on depicting Manning as an unlikable person. Should unlikable people get heavier sentences? What, I wanted to scream, about the likability of blowing the whistle on major crimes? Shouldn't that be rewarded, rather than being less severely punished? There were some 30 of us observing the trial on Wednesday in the courtroom, many with "TRUTH" on our t-shirts, plus six members of the news media. another 40 some people were watching a video feed in a trailer outside, and another 40 media folks were watching a video in a separate room. The defense and prosecution lawyers sat a few feet apart from each other, and I suppose the politeness of the operation was preferable to the violence that had led to it. But the gravity of threatening Manning with 90 years in prison seemed belied by the occasional joking with witnesses.