Peace activists "Welcome Home" Bradley Manning at Tampa airport

08/19/13 Janelle Irwin
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U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning could be sentenced to up to 90 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. A group of 15 peace activists thinks he should be released with time served.

During an unconventional demonstration at Tampa International Airport on Saturday, Melissa Baird was one of several holding a large banner symbolically welcoming Bradley Manning home.

“He’s been tortured enough. He’s been tried enough. He’s been kept prisoner for way too long and it’s time to let him go home.”

Baird is with the group, St. Pete for Peace. They organized a car pool to take people from St. Pete to the airport where they hoped to draw attention the trial. Among the information leaked by Manning in 2010 was a graphic video now referred to as Collateral Murder.

“The video was absolutely appalling that our military people were just firing on civilians and thought it was funny and were just picking people off as they came to help others.”

Another member of St. Pete for Peace, Thomas Lingo, said people should be demanding the government focus its efforts on prosecuting those implicated by the leaked video.

“They’re still talking about prosecuting the whistleblower and not the perpetrators of war crimes. That hasn’t even been brought up. Even in the judge’s – recently when she gave her reasoning for her sentencing of Bradley Manning – she never really addressed the crimes that he exposed and what’s going to happen to the people that were in charge who gave orders or allowed people to commit these crimes.”

Manning is also charged with leaking Iraq war logs and an Afghan war diary. During a statement to the court last week, Manning apologized for his actions and for “hurting” America. Some Manning supporters were angered by the apology arguing there was nothing to apologize for. But St. Pete for Peace’s Baird said those people should put themselves in Manning’s shoes.

“If I were facing 90 years, which is obviously the equivalent to a life sentence, that I would be thinking very seriously about what I needed to say and particularly having been tortured and knowing that I might be going back to that situation, I would be very cautious about saying anything that would antagonize people.”

Some members of Veterans for Peace held welcome home Bradley Manning signs as well. Dwight Lawton said his past military career has left him with some working knowledge of the uniform code of military justice.

“These military courts are kangaroo courts, so I don’t have high expectations. They got to maintain the system. The judge has to worry about her career.”

Lawton is worried Manning’s sentence will be harsh. He said there should be better whistleblower protections in place.

“I don’t think we can rely on our government at all. It’s going to be you and I. When women got the right to vote, it wasn’t our elected officials, it was the suffragettes. They stood up. They took a lot of heat from their husbands and even their children. They were determined to get to vote and those are the kinds of things that people need to do.”

The group spent an hour and a half holding signs in front of one of the shuttles where people meet their returning loved ones. Most people paid little attention to the gathering of people. St. Pete for Peace’s Lingo said many people didn’t know who Bradley Manning was and most thought the group was really welcoming home a soldier.

“This woman was standing saying what a wonderful idea it was because they have this banner saying ‘Welcome Home Bradley Manning’ and above that it says, ‘jailed for exposing war crimes’ but she probably didn’t notice that as much as the standing out part of ‘Welcome Home Bradley Manning’ and she was commenting on what a wonderful sign it was and everyone standing here and then I explained to her a little bit what was going on and she recognized the name Bradley Manning, but it didn’t really come to her head right away who …”

A sentencing decision is expected sometime this week. Manning was convicted on 20 counts related to releasing more than 700,000 documents to Wikileaks, but was acquitted on the most severe charge – aiding the enemy.

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