Dozens of Bradley Manning supporters rally outside gates of MacDill AFB in Tampa
The trial of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning began Monday in Maryland.
Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks. In a hearing earlier this year Manning said he did so to help the American people learn the truth about the wars being fought in their names.
Monday during the opening statement his attorney said Manning was young and naive, but he had good intentions and thought he could make the world a better place.
Prosecutors say they will present evidence that Osama bin Laden asked for and received information given to WikiLeaks. They called it “a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information on to the Internet into the hands of the enemy.”
Thousands of people rallied over the weekend at demonstrations across the country showing support for Manning. In Tampa Dwight Lawton from Veterans for Peace, said instead of being tried, Manning should be praised for his actions.
"Bradley Manning is a whistle-blower who brought us the truth about how our military was operating in Iraq and that was irresponsibly. They were killing civilians and they were doing it with great glee and it really saddens me that our military acts that way. Of course, it's not surprising that they were doing that and Bradley Manning is doing us a great service by doing what he did. They are trying to paint him as a traitor, which he is not and ties him in with the Wikileaks and Julian Assange situation. We need to encourage these whistle-blowers and find out more about what our government is doing, because they're hiding behind secrecy and unfortunately our president is doing what many of our presidents have done in glorifying war and the military and the fact that they are defending our country, which they haven't done that for years. He faces charges of life imprisonment - hopefully not execution - and they've already treated him pretty poorly in prison and had him in solitary confinement, which is a common tactic being used in all of our prisons. We've got to bring some justice to this system."
More than 60 Manning supporters rallied outside the gates of U.S. Central Command Saturday to inform people entering MacDill Air Force Base that "Bradley Leaked the Truth." That was the message spelled out in large letters along south Dale Mabry Highway.
Marianne Huber came to Tampa from St. Petersburg to support Manning.
"We don't feel like exposing war crimes is a crime and he was arrested, allegedly, for releasing documents to Wikileaks that were then released to the cyber world. When you look at what was released it was war crimes perpetrated by the Unites States. So to us, it's not a crime to talk about what we were doing during our wars that was a crime.
Why protest today and why at MacDill Air Force Base?
"We're protesting today because Bradley Manning's trial begins on Monday in Maryland and we just want to show him our support. We are here in front of the MacDill Air Force Base because that's the Cent Comm headquarters, so this is really their head quarters for wars around the world."
What do you think will happen to Bradley Manning?
"I hope he gets acquitted and I hope the world realizes that what we did in our wars overseas are crimes and people should not be punished for exposing those crimes."
Several of the demonstrators staged a silent street theater production telling the story of why Manning leaked the videos and documents because of the abuses he saw while serving in Iraq and how the leaks have helped spur global democracy movements like the Arab Spring. Thai Huynh played Manning.
"The leaks that Manning released to Wikileaks came from Cent Comm like the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. It revealed the real nature of a-symmetric warfare and what that means for civilians on the ground and what the real casualties are. I think it's important that we address Cent Comm being in our own back yard here in Tampa and as someone who grew up in Tampa, it's important."
Manning has been in the brig for 3 years. His lawyers say he has been abused at times, including being made to stand naked in front of guards.
Bruce Nissen is a Manning supporter from Pinellas Park.
"My sign says 'We support whistle-blowers. Drop the charges against Bradley Manning.' and that's exactly why I'm here. Bradley Manning is a whistle-blower who exposed secrets that the U.S. was keeping in terms of the mistreatment and torture and conduct of the war. He's being charged and could be put away for life for what he's done and we think he needs to be protected."
Some people say that stealing secrets and publishing classified information should be punished. What's your response?
"This type of secret is merely something that is an embarrassment to the U.S. government.It's not any kind of secret that's putting anyone's life in danger. In fact, quite the opposite. Because this came out, we are likely to be saving lives."
When activist first started making plans for this demonstration they anticipated committing civil disobedience and being arrested. But those plans changed leading up to the rally -- the police presence was light and there were no arrests.
Spring Hill resident Bettejo Indelicato agrees with other protesters that instead of committing a crime, Manning was trying to expose wrongdoings.
"What Bradley Manning did was an act of honor. He committed no crime. He saw crimes and he exposed them. Our government is trying to hide that and is trying to make us fearful to speak out against the wrongs that we see. I'm here primarily because I want my grandchildren to know that if they see a wrong being committed, their nation is going to support them to speak out."
Manning has admitted to sending the material WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to reduced charges on ten counts that would lead to a maximum of 20 years in prison. But he admitted guilt without a deal from the U.S. military who wanted to pursue more serious charges.
The trial expected to last through the summer.
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