SKOWHEGAN — A group of protesters took to the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge in Skowhegan to show support for Bradley Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison Wednesday for a bevy of charges, including six counts of violating the Espionage Act.
“To me, espionage means stealing or infiltrating plans,” said Lisa Savage, one of the protestors and a member of Code Pink, a woman-initiated grass-roots peace and social justice movement. “Manning only leaked information that would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. He simply leaked information on what happened.”
The group of a half-dozen or so stood on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge for about an hour, holding up signs and wearing pro-Manning clothing, soliciting honks from passing vehicles. Roughly a dozen drivers responded to the protesters.
Manning was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, which helped expose American military and diplomatic activities throughout the world. Manning was found guilty in July of six counts of violating the Espionage Act, but wasn’t guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious of crimes Manning was charged with.
Savage, donning a pink wig and wearing a shirt with Manning’s face and the phrase “35 years for telling the truth,” said that the point of the protest is to keep this issue at the forefront of peoples’ minds.
“We want to continue to raise awareness about this issue,” Savage said, adding that a group of protesters meet every Sunday at the bridge to protest the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “About 1,000 people see us in an hour on Sundays, and I figure rush hour on a Wednesday is similar.”
Protesting alongside Savage was Skowhegan resident Brian Pulling, who said he has initiated conversation with Maine’s elected officials in hopes of meeting with them about the prosecution of Manning and the ongoing issues involving the National Security Agency and Edward Snowden, who leaked massive amounts of NSA documents to the media and has been granted political asylum in Russia.
“I think these are the most important issues in the United States and the most important to our own national security,” Pulling said. “People have a right to privacy. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 1700s or 2013.
Manning’s sentence of 35 years is the longest in American history for espionage-related crimes. He will be eligible for parole in seven years.
Manning, who served in the the Army as a private first class, was dishonorably discharged and reduced in rank to private, the lowest rank in the military.
Among the materials Manning gave to WikiLeaks was a video taken during a helicopter attack in 2007 in Baghdad, where civilians and two Reuters journalists were killed. He obtained the material from a classified computer network to which he had access as a low-level Army intelligence analyst, according to The New York Times.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239