Gordon Campbell on National’s crusade against Chelsea Manning

chelsea-manningSo the National Party wants the government to deny Chelsea Manning a visa for her two speaking engagements in mid September, and it would have already done so if it was still in power. Good to know. Unconvincingly, National’s immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse has tried to argue that the Manning situation is really quite, quite different from the case of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, those two Canadian white nationalists whose visit here was so stoutly defended by National Party leader Simon Bridges.

Yup, there’s a difference alright. Southern and Molyneux specialise in speech and actions aimed at inciting fear and hostility against vulnerable minorities. By contrast, Manning leaked 700,000 documents that exposed the means via which the US government secretly practiced violence against vulnerable minorities around the world. For doing so, she was sentenced to 35 years in jail and served nearly seven of them, before having the rest of her sentence commuted by US President Barack Obama.

The lengthy sentence [had] long been criticized by her advocates and supporters who have said that Manning’s leak was a public service that exposed human rights abuses. On Wednesday, during his last press conference as president, Obama said Manning’s sentence was “very disproportionate relative to what other leakers have received”.

Here’s a list of ten things that Manning’s leaked cables revealed. The revelations included chapter and verse on these sort of activities:

During the Iraq War, U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to thousands of field reports.

There were 109,032 “violent deaths” recorded in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including 66,081 civilians. Leaked records from the Afghan War separately revealed coalition troops’ alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops, with U.S. diplomats effectively working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto.

British and American officials colluded in a plan to mislead the British Parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs.

In Baghdad in 2007, a U.S. Army helicopter gunned down a group of civilians, including two Reuters news staff.

Personally, I think our government should be thanking Manning for these and other revelations, and for the sacrifices she made as a consequence of bringing them to light.

National’s reasoning

Woodhouse has offered this rationale for campaigning to ban her New Zealand speaking tour:

“This is not a question of free speech. [Ms Manning] is free absolutely to say whatever she wants but she’s not free to travel wherever she wants. Other countries have already denied her entry,” he said. “It was highly inappropriate that she should make money from talking about her crimes, Mr Woodhouse said.”

Right. Yet it is quite OK with National for Southern and Molyneux to make money by preaching hatred and racism? To date, Canada is the only example of “other countries” that have denied Manning entry, and this was back in September 2017 – at a time when Canada was seeking to avoid giving offence to the US as the NAFTA revision talks began. If previous barred entry is to become the new criterion, then why didn’t Woodhouse speak out against the visa granted to Lauren Southern despite her having been barred entry to the UK?

A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “Border Force has the power to refuse entry to an individual if it is considered that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.” Ms Southern, who supported a seaborne mission seeking to hamper the rescue of refugees, claimed British authorities had told her she was “officially banned from UK for racism” after being detained.

Currently, Manning is due to speak at the Sydney Opera House before proceeding on to New Zealand. This fact may have slipped the notice of Aussie Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who has been otherwise engaged during the past week. But if Manning does have a visa for Australia, our immigration policy can surely see its way clear to act similarly, without causing mortal offence to Donald Trump.

Surely though, it’s not about what other countries do. As an independent country, we should be free to assess whether Chelsea Manning poses a risk/threat to New Zealand. The best comment on this point – and on the Manning issue to date – has been from Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman:

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman said she saw no evidence to suggest Ms Manning was a risk to New Zealand because of her whistleblowing, and she should be allowed into the country. “She was privy to information that was very damning and would expose abuses of power that were in the public interest to be exposed. She chose really bravely to put her body on the line, essentially, and expose those abuses… I feel like if you’re a person that feels like abuses of power being exposed is a threat to you, then you might be part of the problem…”

Touche. In fact, Chelsea Manning has a lot that’s pxitive to offer New Zealand, despite Woodhouse’s crack about it being inappropriate that she should make money from talking about her crimes. Woodhouse seems to be unaware that for years, Manning has been a leading US activist for transgender rights. That topic is what she wanted to talk about in a long and informative interview on RNZ last weekend, in which she downplayed her Wikileaks past.

Or more accurately, Manning contextualised it as being part of a life spent (initially) in being ostracised as queer, and then choosing to speak out on behalf of those facing systemic social persecution. If allowed entry, Manning could tell us a lot that’s useful about the causes (and prevention) of youth suicide among the transgender community. She can also talk firsthand about the risks of whistleblowing in this politically polarised time. We could all benefit from her presence.

For instance: there has been a simmering debate here about a bill that’s just been reported back to Parliament, which aims at easing gender changes on birth certificates, and includes for the first time, an option for transgender status. Originally mooted by Peter Dunne, and taken over by NZ First MP Tracey Martin, the proposed bill also has the backing of National MP and select committee chairman Brett Hudson:

People will be able to change genders on their birth certificate by way of a statutory declaration, instead of needing confirmation by a judge, under a bill reported back to Parliament.

And they will have options others than male or female – the options of “intersex” or “X (unspecified)” will also be available if Parliament adopts the recommendations of the Governance and Administration Committee on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.

The move to self-identification for gender changes on birth certificates rather than needing the approval of a court and medical evidence brings it into line with passports and drivers’ licences, committee chairman and National MP Brett Hudson said.

Point being, if we let Manning into the country we might hear some intelligent, informed comment on the difficulties faced by the transgender community, and this would be of positive use to the deliberations of Parliament, as well as to the wider public. But no… National will go out of its way to champion the hateful and socially destructive views of Southern and Molyneux, while agitating for a ban on Manning’s ability to share her experience with us. Still, it’s good to know whose company National prefers to keep.

Footnote: Because of her conviction, Manning has reportedly lodged an application to Immigration for a “special direction” visa. If this is denied by Immigration, she can then apply to Immigration Minister Ian Lees- Galloway (or to his deputy Kris Faafoi) for an exemption. There’s not much time left for this to clear the bureaucratic hurdles.

Big Business babies

Yesterday, PM Jacinda Ardern tried to re-assure the business sector that its night fears about the state of the economy are a wee bit exaggerated… But regardless, her government will put a night light on the bedside table of business, in the shape of a lovely new Business Council – which will read business some bedtime stories, and encourage it to talk about any bullying that its facing out there in the global playground.

The Ardern speech can be found here.

The speech is an interesting mix of concern, cajoling and barely suppressed irritation at the whining from this supremely advantaged sector of society. To repeat: New Zealand’s “plummeting” levels of business confidence are not based on the economic indicators ( which are overwhelmingly positive) but spring from a prolonged sulk by business about the change of government. Spare me. Instead of the nation rushing to its side with sweets and soothing words, this corporate tantrum is best ignored, and business should be left to get on with it. Ardern has far more important things to do.

Sing a Happy Tune

Still, it seems that for now at least, we’re all faced with the task of trying to cheer up the rich and the powerful. Here’s what self-belief sounds like: Frank Sinatra, at the height of his powers, on a track recorded back in a bygone era when business didn’t need its hand held when crossing the road.

In similar vein, here’s the 1940s Singing Marine, r& b artist Cecil Gant, conveying the Ardern government’s basic message to business: