There were two blond heads sitting at opposite tables at the court martial of Pfc Bradley Manning. The lead prosecutor, Major Ashden Fein, is nine years older than the defendant and several inches taller, a former prep school drill team cadet with a wife and child. He has a rapid fire, abrasive way of speaking and a Northern accent despite his Texas upbringing. He couldn't be more different than the queer computer geek on trial for transmitting classified information to WikiLeaks, but they look the same when you see them from behind the courtroom bar. It was the end of July, and the court was waiting for the judge to arrive with her verdict. The prosecutor appeared relaxed, slumped in his chair with his legs stretched out. Manning was sitting silently, poised and still.
"He stands more ramrod straight than anyone when the judge comes in," Bill Wagner said of Manning. Wagner picked up the first visitor pass when the pretrial hearings began two years ago. That was five years after retiring from work in solar physics at NASA. Wagner has attended court a few days a week ever since. I saw him that morning at the entrance to the Fort Meade defense base in Maryland, where the trial is held, holding a sign reading "Thank you Bradley Manning" alongside a couple dozen other supporters. Some cars driving past would honk and wave but on the ground the mood was far from optimistic. I heard a number of supporters compare it to a funeral. Everyone I talked to believed Manning would be found guilty on all counts, the worst of which -- "aiding the enemy" -- carried an inevitable life sentence.
Manning had the best posture in the room when the crowd stood for Judge Denise Lind, who delivered the verdict immediately after seating. With each charge, she'd read from her notes then, with an arched eyebrow, peer over her bifocals to look at Manning to pronounce him guilty or not. Twenty-two charges and four minutes later, she paused and said, "Court is in recess until zero nine thirty tomorrow."
And then video feed was off.
I was watching the footage in the court overflow room with thirty other spectators. "What happened?" someone asked. "I thought they would say what the charges are," another person murmured. Because Judge Lind listed the charges as code violation numbers, people were confused as to what was the outcome. A representative from the Bradley Manning Support Network walked through the crowded room, loudly proclaiming "Not guilty of aiding the enemy! Not guilty of aiding the enemy!" But there was no victory in her voice. The crowd remained silent. So that was one of the two "not guilty" verdicts she announced. What was the other?
"The Farah video," said a middle aged blonde woman looking over check marks on her spiral bound notebook, meaning the Granai airstrike video. Some supporters of Manning who attend the trial regularly were used to hearing about charges as numbers.
"So that's it?" an older Asian woman in a tie neck blouse asked her.
I got back to my car and the coffee I'd left in the cup holder was still warm.
* * *
After the verdict was announced, a group of supporters gathered in a Panera at a nearby strip mall. I took a seat with Michael Marceau, part of Veterans for Peace, who took part in the first protest for Manning outside Quantico in 2010, where Manning was held in solitary confinement. He has followed the case closely ever since. "He was in my congressional district when he enlisted," Marceau said, explaining why Manning's case was of particular interest to him. He told me Veterans for Peace was formed in part to create connections between different generations of veterans. Something that struck me immediately about Manning's supporters is they are a multigenerational group -- stay-at-home mothers and retirees, as well as Occupy activists. Then again, Marceau, who is in his late sixties, took part in the Occupy DC Freedom Plaza actions too.
Later in the evening, I drove to DC where a larger group assembled at Dupont Circle. A screen was set up in front of the fountain to play the footage Manning is best known for leaking, what Julian Assange once called "Collateral Murder," the video of the Apache helicopter attack on civilians. The crowd formed a line and marched on to the street chanting "The truth is not a war crime." We passed a building on Q Street with Manning's image projected on it alternating with statements in bold white letters like "HE DID IT FOR US" and "COURAGE AGAINST THE COWARDLY." The march worked its way south until stopping in front of the White House.