Artists, activists unite at Bradley Manning trial

By David Dishneau

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, June 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this June 17, 2013 photo, Clark Stoeckley stands in front of a box truck in Fort Meade, Md., that he painted in support of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning. Stoeckley, an art instructor spending his summer making sketches of Manning’s court-martial, is Manning’s most visible supporter as he arrives at Fort Meade early each day in a truck painted to provoke.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. — Clark Stoeckley is Bradley Manning's most visible supporter at the soldier's court-martial. He arrives each day in a white box truck with bold words painted on the sides: "WikiLeaks TOP SECRET Mobile Information Collection Unit." The provocative gag even has a nonworking satellite dish and two fake security cameras on it.

Stoeckley, a 30-year-old art instructor at a New Jersey college, is among the more colorful of the 10 to 20 supporters who regularly attend Manning's trial, which resumed this week. The loose-knit group of mostly retirees or self-employed workers sits through hours of sometimes bland testimony at Fort Meade, a military installation near Baltimore. They take notes, make courtroom sketches or write blogs, posting their drawings and articles on websites designed to inform people about the court-martial and raise money for Bradley's defense.

They do so because they are united in skepticism of the U.S. government and the belief that Manning exposed wrongdoing by leaking hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports and State Department cables, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan war video.

Stoeckley, who teaches at Bloomfield College, is spending his summer sketching the courtroom drama, making colorful drawings of the Army private in his dress blue uniform; witnesses in their Army fatigues and Manning supporters in their black T-shirts with the word "truth" across the chest.

Stoeckley got involved after seeing a video Manning gave to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. The video showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed at least eight people, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

The Pentagon concluded the troops reasonably mistook the camera gear for weapons and that the journalists were in the company of armed insurgents. Stoeckley calls it a war crime.

"My immediate reaction was, 'This is the deal-breaker. This is what's going to end the Iraq war,''" he said.

But it didn't end the war and the video became evidence that led the military to charge Manning with 22 counts, including espionage, computer fraud and aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. There's no question Manning leaked the information, but he says none of it put troops or the government in harm's way.

On Wednesday, about 50 sympathizers attended and heard from a former State Department official who testified about access to diplomatic cables. About 30 supporters were allowed in the courtroom and the others watched a closed-circuit video feed from a trailer outside the courthouse.

The government has been moving quickly through its case, presenting evidence from more than 60 witnesses in just 10 trial days since it started June 3.

Manning's supporters are mostly anti-war and have a history of civil disobedience. They identify with groups such as Courage to Resist; Veterans for Peace and the Center on Conscience and War.

They try each day to fill the 20 seats reserved for the public and media in the small courtroom, and have done so most days. They protest just outside the Fort Meade gates with "Free Bradley Manning" signs before the testimony begins at 9:30 a.m., then they enter the base, leaving behind their signs, buttons and anything with Manning's name on it. Those things are banned inside the courtroom.

At lunchtime, they eat pizza, sub sandwiches and other fast-food at the nearby PX, talking about everything from the trial to their personal lives. Some say they have grown close.

"We talk about news items, what's happening this weekend, where somebody's appearing at a church or some kind of gathering," said Bill Wagner, 75, a retired NASA research manager who takes notes during the trial.

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