By Tommy Airey
Today, as a result of one of Barack Obama’s last actions in the White House, Chelsea Manning, real American hero, walks free after 2,545 days in military captivity. We celebrate Manning, particularly the powerful contributions she made towards subversively exposing the ever-violent truth in an imperial context and for enduring 2,545 real-life episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. Manning’s actions were truly apocalyptic (from the Greek apokalypsis meaning “unveiling” or “revealing”).
In July 2013, we drove 40 miles from Washington D.C. to Fort Meade, Maryland for the closing arguments of Manning’s trial. We joined 32 other spectators in the courtroom and three dozen others in an overflow portable with closed-circuit TV coverage of the trial. Most of these folks were curious activists who wore black shirts with TRUTH scrawled on the front. On the day we attended the festivities, the lead attorney for the prosecution took up six hours for his closing remarks (in contrast, the next day, the defense took three hours). He called Manning an “informational anarchist” and repeatedly claimed that Manning was only motivated by his quest for notoriety while methodically doing whatever it took to cover up his misdeeds.
Here’s how our friend Sheldon Good described it back then:
I will not forget this place: the most innocently nondescript “hall of power” one could imagine, tucked away two miles into the Fort Meade military base (a stark contrast to the pristine “halls of power” flaunted across the National Mall). And I will not forget sitting, listening, agonizing through six hours of the proceeding, and, with exhaustion setting in, deciding to leave early — knowing, however, that Manning could not leave, that he may never experience freedom again, wondering if that is fair and just, wondering if we’ll ever know the truth.
The whole scene was depressingly ironic. Manning was being tried for disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the public. These documents horrifically indicted the US government as an empire spreading violent death all over the world in the names of “peace” and “security.” Manning, a bullied soldier stationed in Iraq, witnessed plenty of these atrocities and plotted to unveil it to the world by leaking just some of it to Wikileaks. Manning was arrested and relegated to long days in solitary confinement in a small cell and tried by a military court, largely out of view of the American Public.
Four years ago, on our way back to D.C., we talked about the meaning of our time at Fort Meade and what we might do to make Manning’s actions a more powerful reality in our own lives and in the world. It’s easy to become apathetic, cynical, indifferent or just overwhelmed with a story like Chelsea Manning. Like the response to the unjust violent death of Jesus, many folks get by one more day by casting the significance into the future, when Redemption might magically come at the hands of Triumphal Divinity. The death of Jesus (and the life of Manning) can become Real, though, when we witness the corruption and terror of the Powers (exposed by Jesus and Manning) and find the courage to nonviolently and creatively confront the manifold injustices routinely displayed by governments, corporations, families and faith communities. This is a task worthy of our lives. At the very least, this day reminded us of that.