Led by veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, supporters of army PFC Bradley Manning protested in some 35 US cities tonight. The protests were planned to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, to demand that President Obama pardon Manning.
They also demanded that the President “retract and apologize for remarks made in 2011, in which he said Bradley Manning ‘broke the law.’”
Manning allegedly released more than 700,000 classified files to Wikileaks, including the “Collateral Murder” video which depicts over a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters employees, being shot without provocation from an Apache helicopter.
Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010, and remains in jail, awaiting trial. His court martial may begin in February.
In San Francisco, supporters of Manning called for his release at a rally at 16th and Mission plaza. Speakers also decried Obama for wars that the United States continues to fight, for drone strikes, and for failing to close Guantanamo Bay.
Several veterans spoke to the crowd of about 60.
Jeff Paterson, founder of the war resister and conscientious objector support network Courage to Resist, spoke about the group's work on Manning’s behalf.
“We ended Bradley’s torture at Quantico base,” Paterson said. The group also raised more than $200,000 for Manning’s legal defense fund.
Paterson told the crowd they won’t stop until Manning is free.
“President Barack Obama can end this today by pardoning Bradley Manning,” Paterson said.
Paterson is known as the first US soldier to refuse to fight in Iraq. He was a Marine from 1986-1991, refusing deployment when he was stop-lossed in 1990. He was jailed for three months.
Joshua Shepherd, who served in the Navy for six years ending in 2008, also spoke at the rally.
"Our foreign policy is built upon lies," said Shepherd. "Bradley Manning was instrumental in exposing our generation's lies."
Shepherd said that he began to question US foreign policy on a port visit in Nagasaki during his deployment.
“As far as I was concerned, we were pulling in for three days to enjoy our time in Nagasaki. And we were in a war ship,” Shepherd remembers.
But as they pulled into the shore, Shepherd said, “I saw the shore packed with protesters and they were terribly angry that we were there.” A visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum during his time in Nagasaki also influenced Shepherd, who now organizes with Iraq Veterans Against War.
“It’s a process to turn around once you’ve joined the military and committed so much of yourself to this institution,” Shepherd told protesters today.
Shepherd was one of six veterans arrested at Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland Aug. 16.
After the rally, protesters marched and protested a group watching Obama’s DNC speech.
“I find it hypocritical that Obama promised to protect whistle blowers four years ago,” said David Zebker, a San Francisco CPA who attended march.
While campaigning in 2008, President Obama promised to protect whistleblowers, saying their "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled."
“No person was harmed from the information he released,” Paterson said of Manning. “He’s a whistle blower in every classic sense of the word.”