Clark Stoeckley, court sketch artist & WikiLeaks Truck driver

Note: Firedoglake has been relying on Clark Stoeckley’s courtroom sketches in its coverage of Bradley Manning’s court martial.

The courtroom sketch artist and activist, who had been driving the WikiLeaks Truck on to Fort Meade just about every day of court proceedings in Bradley Manning’s court martial, was banned from the military base on July 26.

It was the day of the defense’s closing argument and Clark Stoeckley did not want to upstage the defense by trying to grab headlines with his side of the story on what happened, but that day Stoeckley was escorted after being told he was banned by the garrison commander because he had sent out what had been perceived as threatening tweets.

Stoeckley described how he had walked back into the courtroom when a paralegal officer pulled him aside and walked to a location near the courtroom, where had never been before. Essentially, he said it was where Manning goes every time he is taken out of court.

The paralegal officer told him he had been banned from the trial and was losing his credentials. That day Stoeckley had worn a “Free Bradley Manning” t-shirt. He thought this might be why he was being banned because he was wearing it in the jury box with other press. But, it turned out it was because he had included the location of the hotel where military prosecutors are staying in tweets he sent out the previous night.

Stoeckley told Firedoglake he did not know the location for certain, but, based on information he heard through a chain of sources, he felt like calling attention to the fact that this might be the hotel where the prosecutors were staying. He asked the paralegal officer if he was confirming the prosecutors were staying in this hotel by banning him. The paralegal officer made a face at him but said nothing verbally in response.

A military public affairs car drove Stoeckley to get what he had left in the courtroom, to retrieve his phone from a van that had brought him over to the courtroom originally and then he was driven to the media center where military police officers were waiting to escort him off base.

One of the officers working for public affairs came out of the media center with Stoeckley’s computer and other belongings. This officer told Stoeckley he would be taken off base and there was nothing they could do about this. This was a court decision.

A police car followed him as he drove his WikiLeaks Truck from the media center off base for the last time during Manning’s court martial.

When the base was in the process of removing Stoeckley, the press realized what was happening and most credentialed media rushed out on to the concrete steps leading into the media center. The WikiLeaks Truck was still there and the press wanted to see officers removing him.

A colonel for military public affairs came out of the media center and began to yell at the press about how they were not going to be allowed to stand out here. They did not want us to see him removed, but a reporter attempted to explain that Stoeckley was a member of the media. He had credentials. When a member of the media is about to be banned, press have a right to come out and see what is happening.

Stoeckley went home and immediately wrote a letter to the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind. He sent it to the public affairs office and to Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs.

The letter, made public by the United States Army, begins:

On the night of July 25th, I posted inappropriate messages on Twitter relating to a hotel where I believed participants in the court martial of The United States v. Pfc. Bradley Manning were lodging. What I did was highly unprofessional. I am extremely embarrassed by my conduct and very sorry for my lapse of judgment.

This was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. I am deeply ashamed of this error. I deeply regret making this information known to the public. It was never my intention to cause any harm, intimidation or confrontation; but I realize now how the message could be perceived in that manner.

When Coombs forwarded the letter, he wrote, “After reading his letter, I think the Court should consider allowing [Clark Stoeckley] to return to either the media center or the courtroom.”

The effort to apologize did not pay off. Colonel Edward C. Rothstein of the Office of the Garrison Commander signed off on a “bar order” prohibiting Stoeckley from returning to base.

From the letter to Stoeckley informing him he was banned:

…This limited bar order is based on the following misconduct: On 25 July 2013, you made a series of postings on your Twitter account, [@WikiLeaksTruck], identifying the lodging location of the members of the prosecution team for U.S. v. PFC Bradley Manning court-martial being held at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. You posted the link to the hotel on numerous occasions, along with threatening comments, for example: “I don’t know how they sleep at night, but I do know where…” Your postings were threatening in nature and targeted government officials…

To protect the security of Meade, the Garrison commander deemed it necessary to react to the messages by banning him. However, there is another side of the story that should be out there.

According to Stoeckley, Maj. Ashden Fein offered information on where he was lodging to a person he did not know, whom he met inside the hotel. He said something to the effect of, “I am Maj. Ashden Fein. I am a prosecutor in the case of the US v. Pfc. Bradley Manning.” This exchange got back to Stoeckley through word of mouth.

Fein potentially violated the exact Operations Security (OPSEC) training, which the government had cited repeatedly in its case against Manning. He gave out “personal information” about himself to an “adversary.”

As described in the presentation, which was created by Manning as part of “corrective training,” ”adversaries” are “foreign governments,” such as “rivals” or “enemies,” “non-government organizations,” such as “corporations,” “political groups,” or “terrorists,” or “anyone,” such as “activists” or “hackers.”

Fein should have presumed the person he talked to could have been “anyone.” How did he know the person was not an “activist” or “hacker”?

The training instructed soldiers to “avoid disclosure of information” in “public conversations” and to “use common sense” because there are “many enemies” and we live in a “free and open society.”

When Manning was going through Advance Individual Training (AIT) so he could obtain a security clearance, he posted a YouTube video where he used “buzzwords” like “top secret and classified materials, top secret buildings and words like that.” The video “brought up a red flag” and he was instructed to put together this presentation and present it at “company formation.”

Should there be “corrective training” for Maj. Fein? What if the Bradley Manning Support Network had gotten a hold of the location of prosecutors and decided to surround the building each morning? Wouldn’t that have put Fein and other prosecutors’ security at risk?

Talking to Stoeckley, he said he found the decision to ban him to definitely be “over-reaching.” The “correct action for them” should have been “to fix their breach of security.”

He admitted that he could have gone to the hotel with his WikiLeaks Truck, parked it and attempted to confront the military prosecutors but never did. In fact, he claimed he had tried to stay away from the hotel when he found out the location.

Upon reflection, Stoeckley thinks he probably should’ve tweeted that he was going to stay at the hotel and everyone should have come to party. “That would’ve been the funnier way I could’ve put it because I know the government is watching,” he said. It also would have been more difficult to interpret that as a threat.

He believes the prosecutors should be staying at Fort Meade and not in a hotel off-base where they are concerned about their location being exposed.

Stoeckley has been traveling to Fort Meade to cover proceedings since at least early 2012. He is working on completing between 325 and 350 sketches for a book that will be completed in October for OR Books.

“I will not be there for the sentencing so I am going to have to figure out” what to do, he acknowledged. He plans to use alternatives such as publicly available photographs of witnesses, other artists’ drawings, etc. He also plans to draw objects outside of the courtroom.

Finally, he recalled what it had been like to drive the WikiLeaks Truck on base during the trial. He tried to sell it on eBay twice, but that never worked out. It is his “only form of transportation” so, if he was going to attend the trial, it was what he would have to drive.

He realizes he made many on base unhappy, however, there were public affairs officers that had a “sense of humor.” A legal matter expert took photos of it at one point. There were press that took photos of themselves posing in front of it.

It is “symbolic of freedom of the press,” Stoeckley declared. He also thought having the truck there legitimized WikiLeaks, making it appear they had a “news truck” at the proceedings.

There have been many allegations against the military about how closed or restrictive the military has been. Allowing Stoeckley to drive the WikiLeaks Truck on base every day made it possible to rebut that argument and say, “We allow a WikiLeaks Truck on base. This is the most open court martial in the history of the military.”

Covering the trial of Manning is not the same without Stoeckley in the press pool. His jokes and sense of humor used to give press a way to distract them from any fatigue and frustration being experienced in the media center.

Stoeckley never intended to threaten any military prosecutors or carry out any acts against them in their hotel, and the garrison commander should rescind his order barring Stoeckley from the military base.