By Joseph Howard Crews
For 60 years the most celebrated and revered African in history was listed as a terrorist threat to the people of the United States. Who decided this? Why did Americans allow this, and what does it say about what we are?
In 2008, former South African President Nelson Mandela was finally removed from the U.S. terrorism watch list. Mandela and other members of the African National Congress had been placed on the list because of their fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime — a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the country’s National Party between 1948 and 1994.
Yet it was just days ago that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt — a man once lauded by President Ronald Reagan — was convicted of genocide after a Guatemalan court found him guilty for his role in the slaughter of 1,771 Mayan Ixils in the 1980s. In fact, a total of 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or “disappeared” during the conflict, making it one of Latin America’s most violent wars in modern history.
This marks the first time in modern history that a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in his own country. After Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, Guatemala erupted in cathartic relief.
During a meeting with Ríos Montt in December 1982, Reagan famously declared: “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment …. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” In reality, Ríos Montt was brutal, learning his “counter-insurgency” tactics at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.”
Against accusations of murder, Ríos Montt responded: “It’s not that we have a policy of scorched earth, just a policy of scorched communists.”
So, Reagan supported this man who scorched Ixil Mayans from the face of the earth because they were “communists” (they were not) and proclaimed that Ríos Montt was a man of integrity, a friend of the United States. Shame!
Our government has over the last century supported a score of corrupt, murderous tyrants throughout Latin America, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujullo and Nicaragua’s Anastastio Somoza. The list for the Middle East is even longer and more sinister.
More disturbing is the vilification, torture or humiliation which our government has wreaked upon great heroes like Mandela, and courageous whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, Peter van Buren, Sibel Edmonds, Lt Col Daniel Davis, CIA veteran John Kiriakou and, most egregiously of all, Pvt. Bradley Manning. Never has a U.S. soldier been so unjustly and cruelly treated by his government.
After more than three years in prison, including nine months of torture in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning’s trial is finally scheduled to begin June 3, 2013, in Maryland. The nation will break out in protests.
The outcome of this trial will determine whether a conscience-driven 25-year-old WikiLeaks whistle-blower spends the rest of his life in prison. Manning believed that the American people have a right to know the truth about what our government does around the world in our name.
We do not know how history will judge Manning, but nations around the world already embrace him as the catalyst for activating vibrant democratic developments in the Middle East. Democracy thrives on truth and transparency in government dealings, which these leaked documents are supplying.
No one has named one single U.S. soldier who has been harmed by the leaked documents. On the contrary, release of the highly embarrassing documents expedited U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, rescuing thousands of troops from bodily injury, PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
The Commander-in-Chief, however, improperly decreed Manning guilty on April 23, 2011, even as Manning languished under abusive treatment in prison. This was evidenced when protesters interrupted President Obama’s speech at his $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser in San Francisco, and were met with the blanket statement from Obama that Manning “broke the law.”
The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial decree of Manning’s guilt is both gross and manifest.
“How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers,” asked Glenn Greenwald, “when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt?”
Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong Obama was in his preconceived condemnation.
Michael Whitney wrote: “[T]he President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime.”
No American soldier has been treated the way our government has treated Pvt. Bradley Manning.
Over three years in prison without trial, nine months of which were in solitary confinement accompanied only by highly abusive treatment. The U.N. official overseeing the investigation pronounced that “Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in ….”
His miscreant jailers and interrogators tormented Manning with perfidious methods designed to humiliate him as a gay man. But he would not break. He stood strong and true for his country and his personal integrity.
It seems unlikely Manning’s trial will bring justice or exoneration. Court hearings have been structured to include secret testimony from secret witnesses and barred his defense from introducing exculpatory testimony.
But years from now Manning will be exonerated, much like Nelson Mandela. Let’s hope his exoneration rises above a Nobel Peace Prize, as that would only put him on a par with Obama’s questionable status.
We who love a healthy and vibrant democracy demand a full and unconditional pardon from Obama, an apology from the secretaries of State and Defense, and restitution for the injustice and humiliation already inflicted upon Pvt.Manning. If the court does not release Manning, and if Obama refuses to issue a pardon, a very severe political cost will be extracted. Justice will prevail.
We demand full respect and honor for patriotic whistleblowers, without whom our democracy will descend into despotism. Governments which operate in secrecy cannot be trusted and descend into oppression — even tyranny.
We see clearly that American government has an atrocious record in choosing its friends, and an equally dismal record of abusing its heroes. We must not allow the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, the Pentagon or even the president to make these choices. We, the free and informed people of America, must select our heroes, and name our villains.
Joseph Howard Crews is the editor of Progressivepost.com, a North County liberal website and bi-monthly newsletter.
June 1 is the International Day of Action to Support Bradley Manning as his trial begins. Rallies in support Manning are scheduled across the nation. San Diego’s rally will be held at 1 p.m. at the corner of 6th and University avenues.
We the People will send a strong message to the military prosecutors, the Congress and President Obama, that Bradley Manning is a courageous patriot for democracy, a hero and intrepid truth-teller.