The day I finally met Chelsea Manning

chelsea, me, Rache

Chelsea Manning at the Annenberg School of Journalism, Philadelphia, PA., talking to me (messy hair, leather jacket) and my wife. Photo by Kyle Cassidy

Updated to add this link, in which Chelsea Manning spoke more clearly about her case than she felt able to do at Penn. (Forgive the deadname in Atlantic’s title; it was before she came  out to the world as the assured young woman you see above.

The photo above was taken on November 29, 2017, right after Manning spoke to about 400 students at the University of Pennsylvania, which treated her far better than Harvard had. That figure in the leather coat  is me, my hair stressed by the windy day. And in that photo, by the celebrated Kyle Cassidy, the shadows under her eyes tell more truths than she could or did that night.

I showed up hoping to live-blog/tweet it, and to ask if I could share what part of her story ends up in my book. The live-blogging was kind of foiled by the unsure wireless at Penn, and by having to wait in line at a microphone to ask her a question in public.

I’m happy that the event was covered by WHYY, which provides a far more exuberant photo, conveying how happy she was to be there. For exact words said, click the link: what I provide is more a set of musings, and answers to questions some of you suggested.

The event was at Annenberg Center Live, at Penn’s journalism school. As I sat waiting, I thought of seeing her in that Fort Meade courtroom five years ago, when we all knew her as Bradley Manning but many, including me, suspected she was transgender. Now her trans identity is one of the first things most people know about her, I thought. Especially those following @Xychelsea on Twitter.

Instead of a journalist, she was on stage with Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill in a field I didn’t know existed: Scientific and Technological Literacy. (One of the fields thats emerged with the STEM generation, I was told by a student who  didn’t know how old that made me feel.)

Most of those in the audience had likely been in their teens when Manning was in basic training. They howled in celebration when Manning and Coleman took the stage, Manning wearing shorts, lace tights and Doc Martins.

Coleman started by telling stories about calls she’d get from Manning when she was at Leavenworth; Manning’s work is already included in Coleman’s, work which includes the books The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking and The Many Faces of Anonymous

That period when they met was when Manning was starting to be able to tell her own story –  200,000 letters from supporters were streaming into Leavenworth, and Manning was tweeting back and writing op-eds with a very patient editor at Guardian UK. “It all had to happen in the U.S. mail,”  Manning said. She would type her drafts, get them in the mail and then make a collect call to the Guardian and dictate the article, to get it into the queue. “Op-ed is a very difficult form in journalism,” Coleman pointed out.
They talked about some of the op-eds, including one for the New York Times about the dangers of big data. This part of the conversation was the most substantive, discussing the way the data we provide for online convenience enters algorithms that can impact our lives in unforeseen ways.  “In Iraq, I was working with comparatively primitive software,” Manning said. “And my algorithm killed people.” Coleman mentioned next the video released by Wikileaks as Collateral Murder,  the helicopter-cam video of a 2007 airstrike in Iraq that killed two Reuters journalists. “I showed the video to one of my classes at New York University,” she said. “And I can tell you that they felt betrayed. Why hadn’t they seen anything like this? Why didn’t they know what was happening in Iraq?”
“That’s why I felt—” Manning started and then stopped. More slowly, she added that “The American people deserved to know the unvarnished truth about the war.” Her reluctance to go into detail about her actions, Manning added, was because so many details of her case are still classified – or re-classified. “How can they do that?” Coleman piped up to mention the booming U.S. intelligence establishment, with dozens of agencies claiming sole right to more and more data.
Coleman asked what crossover Manning saw between two of Manning’s most ardent constituencies: the activist/privacy/hacker community, and those fighting for transgender rights. “So many communities,” said Manning. “If you’re trans, or brown or queer, you’re making yourself a target to the people in power.” Not dissimilar, she added, to her time in Leavenworth: “Everybody in prison faces challenges like that — and we have to lean on each other when it gets hard. It’s a real community…Communities know what’s going on, what has to change.”
Then came the “Jordan Peterson conversation,” for which I will defer to Bobby Allyn’s WHYY piece:

Manning became most animated when Coleman asked about the brouhaha that erupted over a Canadian professor’s refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns, saying it impinged on his free-speech rights.

“It’s all about him, isn’t it?” said Manning to audience laughter. She then shifted to a sterner tone.

“We are who we say we are. It’s as simple as that. This isn’t a free-speech issue. It’s a dignity issue. It doesn’t hurt him, just use it,” she said. “It’s hurtful to be on the other end of that and not be acknowledged or validated.”

See Allyn’s article for most of the Q&A, including Manning’s elegant summary of Democratic security policy:“A ‘D’ is more likely to say, ‘We need more trans drone pilots.’ ” But I wanted to talk about my own question  which really belonged to Desert Storm veteran Scott Lee, who suggested it on AM’s Facebook page.
I was one of the last to get the mike, and I first said: “It’s good to see you. The last time was at Fort Meade, during your court-martial.” The expression that crossed her face was a harder version of the photo at the top of this post. She didn’t like being reminded of that time, though her eloquence when she did get to address the court displayed far better than she’d done that night.

Then I told her that many veterans look up to her, and my question was from one of them ‘When he was in the military, he said, there were classes in what was and what not a lawful order. His question: When does one cross the line to become a whistleblower?”

This was both a substantive question and a softball: an opportunity to put her actions in context, the way she did at Fort Meade. Instead, Manning said that it was complex, that every order is technically a legal order because it comes from someone above you in the chain of command — and as for actions that violate international law, it’s legal if the Pentagon says it is. Her tone was flat, a cross between a tired activist or a paralegal.

I don’t know what I’d expected to hear, but it wasn’t that. I guess part of me was remembering her account, at Fort Meade, of seeing one of her intelligence “products” used to round up and detain people who had done nothing but petition their local authorities.That changed how she looked at the data she was collecting; it must have rendered repulsive the next order to produce more data. But Manning wasn’t comfortable offering details of her work in Iraq, perhaps fearing they were now classified.

After the talk, Manning actually sat on the stage to talk to people, which gave me a chance to ask my other questions. I told her about Ain’t Marchin (not by title), and asked if she had thoughts about Reality Winner or Edward Snowden. “Nothing to say about other cases!” she said.”I can barely talk about my own.”

Then came the request portion. “I’m like other journalists who’ve been trying to write about you before you started telling your own story.” I told her the book will be published, but I was hoping to pass the sections about her by someone who could ensure it was accurate. (This is something I did with Heather Lea Linebaugh, and with the brother of Vietnam veteran Jeff Sharlet.) She nodded, and took down my information (including the URL for this page). Her assistant, her people, are supposed to get in touch.

At this point my wife, the poet/computer geek Rachel Rawlings, had joined us; it turned out that Manning’s supporting herself at a job like Rachel’s, and the two of them commiserated about life as a system administrator. She also told both of us that it’s only in the past few months that she’s come down to earth and really started to process what she has been through, now that the post-release elation was fading. That explains the 1000-yard stare: telling her story, even in this abbreviated form, must be as re-traumatizing as much as it is healing. Not to mention the documentary she’s working on, XYCHELSEA, which comes out next year.

After we all went our separate ways, Manning had 2 afterparties – one at a local bistro and one at the Haktory, a hackers’ workspace.  The latter sounds perfect, because being Chelsea Manning sounds like hard work.

 

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this is joe from gainesville

peacewarhaldOn a Joe Haldeman kick, for reasons perhaps obvious to some of you.

After all, there’s that subtitle on my book, the next stop on my introduction exploration:

From the French and Indian War to the Forever War.

That section of the title has been a shape-shifter. When I first proposed it in 2007 it was “From George Washington to John Murtha,” the latter a tribute to the Pennsylvania congressman and Vietnam veteran who’d just made news by declaring the Iraq war “unsustainable.” Then, it became “From the Boston Massacre to Bradley Manning,” before the latter came out as Chelsea. And there was even a brief period when I replaced Manning with Bowe Bergdahl, who’d spent years as a prisoner of the Taliban after deserting his post in Afghanistan for a range of muddled reasons. But all of those names would date the book before it even came out.

Thus this almost-haiku line, starting with the war we all learned about in school and ending with a phrase coined by another Vietnam veteran and science-fiction writer, Joe Haldeman, and since applied to the current (?) Middle East adventure.

After writing the above, I went looking to see whether the author of the 1974 Forever War was even still alive, and what he’d said about how his weirdly prescient novel had mapped out some of the future. I ended up intherquite the rabbit hole.

He lives in Gainesville, somewhere near our friends and heroes Scott Camil and Camilo Mejia. No one seems to have assembled them, though.Nor have they brought them together with Dexter Filkins, author of that other Forever War. (Ideas for my book launch in FL?)

In this NPR interview ,  Haldeman talks to veterans of many wars about PTSD and how war changes you; in the wonderfully named VICE blog All Fronts,   he contemplates what technologies like 3-D printing may exacerbate our current forever war.

Forever_War_1_Cover-A-MARVANO-600x910Meanwhile, I learn I need to ask my local bestie comic-book shop whether they have this series, now reissued in English.

 

Now at the Philly Inquirer, sine the jujitsu

220px-GeoLoganAfter posting that #47traitors piece, it occurred to me that the Philadelphia media might be interested in knowing why national media kept mentioning kin to one of its most notable Quakers. So I elaborated for the Inquirer:

It’s been more than a week since 47 Senate Republicans sent that letter to Tehran, and commentators can’t get enough of asking: What about the Logan Act?

The law, passed by Congress and signed by President John Adams in 1799, prohibits unauthorized people from negotiating with foreign governments. Violating the act is a felony, and anyone convicted under the statute faces a three-year prison sentence.

Since news of the letter broke, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition urging that the 47 senators be prosecuted under the act. The law applies, some believe, because by sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders, the signers directly disparaged the nuclear agreement being negotiated by the State Department.

Legal experts are often quick to explain that, since the passage of the act in the 18th century, no one has been prosecuted under it. But here’s something they don’t often mention: The bill’s namesake was from Philadelphia.

The name Logan rings a bell with most Philadelphians, even if it’s just from the name’s ubiquity in town. “Logan? Like Logan Square?” But the act itself also has very Philadelphian origins: George Logan, a grandson of William Penn’s secretary and later the U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was a Quaker from one of Philadelphia’s oldest families.

The Founding Fathers knew him well. Dr. Benjamin Rush described Logan as “the early, the upright, and the uniform friend of his country.” Thomas Jefferson commended his “irreproachable conduct, and true civism,” and John Dickinson spoke of his “love of country, candor of spirit, and boundless benevolence.”

During what was known as the Quasi-War between the United States and France in the late 1790s, Logan spent weeks in Paris undertaking that most Quaker of pursuits: listening to French officials and trying to stop naval Kabuki from bursting into all-out war.

I first came across Logan’s story while researching my book-in-progress I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, from Bunker Hill to Bowe Bergdahl. Logan’s activism felt of a piece with the seething energy of the early republic, whose citizens sought to flex their muscles at every opportunity. It also felt emblematic of Philadelphia then, when someone like Logan could go beyond a life of pioneering new agricultural methods. Meddling in national diplomacy felt like good citizenship, especially when one considers his lifelong opposition to war.

Logan, who grew up at his family’s ample Stenton estate, had spent the years of the American Revolution at medical school in Europe – returning to hobnob with Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, join the local militia as a medic, and begin serving in the Pennsylvania legislature. Fluent in French and something of early enthusiast of the French Revolution, he became uneasy when the first of America’s wars for unclear purposes – the Quasi-War – came along.

Logan watched closely as Adams responded to naval maneuvers by the French, who had been made uneasy by unresolved treaty obligations and a new U.S.-Britain pact. Soon, the president was securing increased funds for a U.S. Navy and recalling George Washington in preparation for a ground war.

Disturbed by raging anti-French sentiment in Congress, Logan decided to travel to France, hoping to test the waters for peace with the Directory (the post-Revolutionary council). Once there, he proceeded to do what Quakers do best: He listened. When he came home, he talked about what he had heard – and this perhaps is why historian Edward Channing said Logan did “materially” shift the tide of American public opinion from war to peace.

But while he was gone, Congress had passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, among other things, made it a crime to criticize the president. And because so many members of Congress regarded Logan’s freelance diplomacy as traitorous, the Logan Amendment was attached to the law.

Logan didn’t return home empty-handed. He had secured the release of some captured U.S. sailors and carried a list of possible terms for peace negotiators. However, when he arrived in November 1798, he was immediately, if briefly, arrested. He was never prosecuted – not then and not even a few years later, when he tried to keep the peace with England before the War of 1812.

Today, citing the Logan Act against the 47 GOP senators seems appropriate: Legislation meant to stop an enthusiastic Quaker from preventing a war could be used to block a move that could interfere with a peace treaty on Iran’s nuclear program. I think Logan would approve.

 


Chris Lombardi is a Philadelphia writer. cmlblue@gmail.com

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The editor wisely cut my reference to political jujitsu, but he left in my overall tilt (including the naval kabuki). Not bad for a fighting dove, writing about one of the first.

we all have our secrets

Speaking of Bradley Manning…

Photo: Bill Perry

Photo: Bill Perry

I first saw the video below last year, during the very FIRST of Manning’s pre-trial hearings; I was at that week’s vigil outside Fort Meade, which also doubled as a Veterans for Peace convention. (I’m the one in the beret in this photo, behind Dan Choi and Ray McGovern).

Even though the text was drawn from the chat logs, I had the same worries about posting it as about writing about the gender issue. Now, I think it’s an easy way to get a peek of some useful information, including a glimpse of that young-libertarian mindset that’s familiar to so many of us.

Bradley Manning Had Secrets from Animate Projects on Vimeo.

bradleymanning1.jpg.scaled1000Before he ever was a soldier, Manning was an out gay guy – a gay Starbucks barista, of all things.  We know that from his Facebook page, preserved for us by PBS. We also know that he stayed openly gay AFTER enlisting. He doesn’t mention being gay-bashed in basic, something his peers told Welsh journalists about, though he does mention being in the “discharge unit.”  But by then he was a soldier, and felt himself part of something important, and hoped to stay on. And then.

Then hasn’t ended yet, by a long shot.

Revision sneak peek: preview of chapter one

Wonder how those themes I identified earlier play out in an actual war narrative? So did my peer reviewers. even though I thought I was hitting people over the head with them…

Here’s the opening of chapter one of Ain’t Marching, with a somewhat-expanded musings about why these particular rebels made the cut. What do you think? Some longtime observers may note that I changed the tag  for one of those themes, leaving Jerry Maguire behind for the less-pop-culture-y War costs. Who pays?) Thanks to Greg Turner for the evocative photo, “This is What Revisions Look Like.”

Chapter One: A Military Born of Dissent

Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “ Turn out! Turn out!”

Lyon opened his eyes and reached for his weapon, a light infantry “fuzzee” with tamped-down bayonet.Were the Algonkin attacking already? Had the spies been lying? He sat up and ran out the door of the hut, sweating. It was July 1776, and all the river breeze in the world couldn’t stop the heat from rising off his neck.

What Lyon saw, he had feared. Not the redcoats of the British, nor the tanned and paint-spattered skin of the 500-strong Indian warriors reportedly massing at the next hill: just the backs of his men in formation, and preparing to leave the camp forever. In some ways, the 26-year-old lieutenant couldn’t blame them.

This was not the mission he had promised when he got them to reenlist. Not here in Upper Canada, ordered to stay after Washington retreated and“guard” land owned by some rich men they didn’t know. Starving as they were, they told him, they would never buy corn at the owners’ war-inflated prices.

Nonetheless, he had orders. The Indians were coming. Lyon issued commands that turned to pleas. He himself, he told them, would rather suffer death than the dishonor of court-martial; wouldn’t they?

All entreaties were ineffectual,” Lyon told the U.S. Congress 20 years later. “They declared they had been abused—there was no chance for their lives there…As they were going to take the canoe to the other side, they insisted on [the officers] going [with them], and threatened violence if we refused.”

The men submitted to arrest after the company was returned to Fort Ticonderoga, which many of them had helped seize from the British. Their court-martial was overseen by Gen. Horatio Gates, a rival of George Washington’s and a dear friend of John Adams – the same general who had ordered the company north, on behalf of his wealthy supporters who owned that land. Gates ruled that the men were to be publicly flogged, while Lyon was “cashiered” and given a wooden sword in place of his prized musket.

By the time Lyon told his story publicly, he was a member of Congress. Adams was president, and not there to hear him speak. But he was very familiar with Lyon and his newspaper, The Scourge of Aristocracy and the Repository of Important Political Truths. A few years after his testimony, Lyon would be one of the first Adams ordered clapped in prison, for the new crime of criticizing the Presithedent.

That Jericho mutiny happened before many had finished reading the Declaration of Independence – a document that mentions, as cause for action, both oppressive standing armies and their suppression of dissent. Many in the new country’s uniform saw such agitation as just another fundamental, newly-asserted right. And for nearly every touchstone in what is popularly phrased the American Revolution, you find men in uniform acting as the full citizens they had just been declared.

Like the “Committees of Safety” that evolved into state assemblies, soldiers mostly went about asserting their grievances like citizens: they formed committees, petitioned their officers, assigned the more literate among them as representatives. They did so during the so-called “French and Indian War,” when enlistees held their enlistment papers as golden; they did so in the new Continental Army, which was was in its own way composed of the armed mobs who’d assembled in response to Lexington and Concord. They did so during early naval battles, including the first known military whistleblowers in 1777; in 1779, marching on the house of the future Treasury Secretary to protest hoarding, just as the colonies had secured assistance from Continental Europe and the British retreated from Philadelphia, and an even larger contingent leaving their posts entirely in January 1781, after years of pleas for better supplies. A few found themselves newly members of peace churches, like new Quaker Jacob Ritter, or in exile, like Simon Girty, a “white Indian” Army scout who deserted rather than perpetuate an original sin.

In the fragile depression years after the British surrender, Revolutionary veterans generated the anti-banker protest known as the Shays Rebellion, while others spoke on behalf of conscientious objectors at the Constitutional convention, or started newspapers in stark opposition to the government they had helped found. By the time of Thomas Jefferson’s election in 1800, the deciding vote in a deadlocked Congress was cast by Matthew Lyon, who chose to have the ultimate dissenting answer to the man who had imprisoned him in 1798.

As the mini-history above might suggest, of our core themes the most prominent is the one identified by Lt. Ephraim Faulkner and other Pennsylvania militiamen in 1798: “the midling and the Poor shall bear the burden.” Or, in less 18th-century diction, “War costs. Who pays?That was the heart of Shays Rebellion, the January mutineers, even the New England militiamen waving their enlistment contracts on weary British commanders.

Also key from the beginning: the very few moved by conscience to refuse to fight, whether experiencing a mid-battle insight or staking ground for the original “peace churches.” The latter were also among the few consciously protesting one of the country’s two main original sins, since Quakers also spent a fair amount of time witnessing against slavery. In the face of that original sin, we have soldiers of color at a time when their very existence threw out multiple challenges, a few also participating in explicit rebellions. As for the other sin, only murmurs in soldiers’ letters and desertion by a few half-breed “White Indians” signaled any problem with “claiming” formerly Iroquois or Pequot or Shawnee or Alachua land.

Mavericks were there in full presence, if not exerting as much muscle as later. We see our very first military whistleblowers in 1777, in the form of Navy sailors who violated the chain of command because their commander was torturing prisoners of war. The nation’s first veterans were not shy in supporting press that made trouble, including Matthew Lyon’s Repository. As for combat trauma, explicitly regarded by American physicians as a “European” disease unfit for their young patriots, signs of it are still detectable in some veteran diaries and after-war memoirs, especially by Quakers – the latter, of course, beginning their perpetual role as official extreme that opened up room for everyone else to ask questions, some telling the extremists Hold onto your beliefs, brother. By the end of the era, as newer wars approached, you could even see the Revolutionary veterans preparing guides for the ones to follow.

Next, more details about just a few of these stories, though I can’t reproduce the entire chapter. Do let me know what you think?

the singer of the song

I’m in final revisions on the AMA book, so my focus here is shifting for the next five weeks or so; expect to see some musings on the book’s themes, and new stories getting inserted at the last minute. But I’m unlikely to be following the news quite so closely, and there will be silences.

In the meantime, seek out the movie above if you can. Between his traumatized World War II vet dad, his time at military school (see left),  and his proud history at GI coffeehouses, one can’t imagine someone better to provide this book with its title than Philip David Ochs.

Bradley Manning: WIRED folds, and my dilemma is moot.

WIRED has just released the full transcripts of the conversations between Manning and that snake Adrian Lamo – meaning that everyone that cares about Manning, thinks him hero or traitor, has no way of not knowing about the gender issues. They’re mesmerizing reading, though I agree with Gawker that Lamo turns out to be even more unethical than we knew before (and as much of a scumbag as Glenn Greenwald has said all along.)

And here I just got my letter from David Coombs, basically refusing to discuss it – and I was trying to figure out if that was a coded request to honor what was left of his client’s privacy. Now, I feel that writing about this respectfully is the only way to show that respect. What do you think?

More later when I’ve finished reading the transcripts:  comments sorely requested. Was it Hemingway who said, “The writer’s job is to find out the truth and then write it. But that can be very difficult.”?