There will soon be another year, and, for a moment, I find it worthwhile to celebrate what was accomplished this year—critical work which would not have been possible without people like you.
Going into 2013, there was only one focus: continue regular coverage of Chelsea Manning’s court martial. The trial did not begin until June, however, there were pretrial hearings in which I attended as I had done the previous year.
I met many who had come to recognize my name from the Manning coverage I had done for Firedoglake. It made me aware of the number of people, who were being informed, because of the regular reports on Manning being posted here each day.
As the trial took place, there were very few media outlets that covered all days of one of the biggest and most critical military justice cases in history. I was there just about every day and that was noticed by others in United States media, as often I would find various blogs citing FDL in their updates on Manning’s trial. I also talked to journalists not based in the US, who wanted insights on what was happening in the courtroom at Fort Meade.
Coverage of Manning brought speaking opportunities that had not been offered to me before. I was asked by KPFA to open for Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in Berkeley, California. A few months later, in April, I was on a panel at Judson Memorial Church in New York City with Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, journalist Alexa O’Brien and FAIR activism director Peter Hart.
On June 9, former Justice Department whistleblower Jesselyn Radack (now an attorney who represents whistleblowers for the Government Accountability Project), National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake and I did a panel at the Left Forum in New York City that was made possible by Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait. We discussed treatment of whistleblowers. Drake recounted some of his experiences as he was prosecuted by the US government. I addressed the historical importance of the Manning trial.
There was something else happening during the Forum. Stories revealing details on NSA’s massive surveillance capabilities kept being published at The Guardian with journalist Glenn Greenwald as the author. (The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman was authoring stories as well.)
All three of us were on the same train to Washington, DC, after the panel. That afternoon, the person responsible for these disclosures, who would go on to become one of the most important people of the year, Edward Snowden, went public and took responsibility for the disclosures.
I watched as call after call after call came into the phones of Drake and Radack from media in the US and around the world, who wanted them for television interviews. And, as I put up my post, I recognized I was in the best place a journalist could be at this point, as I had the privilege of witnessing a previous NSA whistleblower as he reacted to the news that a 29-year-old systems administrator was behind recent news stories.
I spent the summer working to keep up with everything Snowden and NSA while at the same time doing diligent coverage of Manning’s trial. To me, it was not something that could be separated. Here were two individuals who engaged in whistleblowing acts—one was about to be put in prison for a long period of time and the other was in Hong Kong (then Russia) and afraid to come home because he had seen how previous whistleblowers had fared in the US justice system.
I never felt like Manning lost media coverage because Snowden and the NSA were in the news. If anything, it gave news programs a reason to do more discussions of whistleblowing and government secrecy because there were two cases unfolding. And, while Snowden sought to distinguish himself from Manning in a way that the media used against Manning, Snowden said when he went public, “Manning was a classic whistleblower. [S]he was inspired by the public good.”
Manning was acquitted of “aiding the enemy” but convicted of five violations of the Espionage Act, as well as other stealing offenses. She was later sentenced to thirty years in military prison at Ft. Leavenworth. She now is working from prison to convince the president to grant her a pardon or commute her sentence.
In February, I said goodbye to CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou days before he went to jail in Loretto, Pennsylvania. He pled guilty to a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act so he could guarantee that the government would not put him in jail for a much longer period of time. His plea came with a prison sentence of 30 months, time he would have to spend away from his wife and children.
Kiriakou has the current distinction of being the only CIA officer in jail for charges related to torture. Unlike various individuals who have not been prosecuted, he never tortured anybody. He talked about torture and confirmed details to a reporter and the government used the communication to target him.
After Manning’s trial, I obtained copies of an NSA letter written to employees reassuring them that they would “weather” this storm and a set of talking points given to employees to share with family and “close friends” during Thanksgiving. Both received wide attention and added to the debate about the NSA.
Finally, in October, I had the privilege of being able to interview and listen to Pakistani Rafiq ur Rehman and his son, Zubair. Rehman lost his 67-year-old mother when she was killed by a US drone while gardening okra. Rehman, his son and his daughter, Nabila, traveled to the US to speak at a congressional briefing that provided them with a rare opportunity to address members of Congress, who are by all accounts failing to properly check the claimed power President Barack Obama has been exercising to target and assassinate people.
I also had the privilege of being able to interview and listen to Faisal bin ali Jaber, a Yemeni civil engineer who had a brother-in-law and nephew killed by a US drone. He, too, had a rare opportunity to address members of Congress in a second briefing.
Finally, I attended hacktivist Jeremy Hammond’s sentencing hearing as a federal judge gave him 10 years in prison for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Much of what I have been doing will continue into the new year. Whistleblowers, including Manning, Kiriakou, Snowden and others will continue to be covered, especially as debates about “going through proper channels” occur. Work highlighting the stories of drone victims will continue. So, too, will stories that highlight the latest on the NSA and the incredible secrecy around national security, which the Obama administration is committed to maintaining.
Thank you to everyone at FDL, who helped make critical work done this year possible. And thank you to the people who donated and supported my coverage of Manning throughout the court martial and those who continue to read my work on a daily basis.
Onward to another year.