Protesters arrested at Quantico as rally for alleged WikiLeaks source turns tense
As many as 30 protesters were arrested near Quantico Marine Corps Base on Sunday while calling for the release of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of sharing a large cache of classified military intelligence with the Web site WikiLeaks.
The arrests of the protesters came at the end of a largely peaceful demonstration of about 400 people at Quantico. Among those arrested was Daniel Ellsberg, 72, a former military analyst who became nationally known after releasing the top-secret government documents called the Pentagon Papers to newspapers during the Vietnam War.
Before the arrests, protesters had arranged, as a gesture to Manning, to place flowers at a memorial statue that commemorates the Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima in World War II. But police tightly choreographed the protesters movements and, in the end, asked them to toss the flowers through a gate at the statue.
"They wouldn't even let us get up to the memorial," said former Army colonel and State Department official Ann Wright. Saying she was fed up, Wright sat in the middle of Jefferson Davis Highway, as did Ellsberg and 28 others.
"It was disrespectful," Wright said of the police.
The impromptu sit-in led to a tense standoff between the demonstrators and Manassas, Prince William County and Virginia state police, who were in riot gear and on horseback, with some carrying automatic assault weapons. They advanced on the squatters and took them away one by one.
"I thought we had to do this, to show we had some fortitude," said Ann Wilcox, an attorney for the demonstrators. "If we had quietly gone back, we wouldn't have made the statement that we made."
The demonstrators had made noise for two hours, shouting "Free Bradley Manning!" and carrying signs denouncing the Obama administration and the military for his treatment in the brig at the base.
Manning, 23, is accused of downloading tens of thousands of secret documents and at least one video onto his computer while stationed with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in Iraq. The video taken by cameras on U.S. helicopters showed a military strike that killed civilians, including two news agency workers.
The soldier was initially charged with two offenses, detained and taken to Kuwait in May. He was eventually brought to Quantico, where officials levied 22 additional charges, one of which, "aiding the enemy," could bring the death penalty.
A network of supporters sprang up, and Sunday's demonstration was aimed at expressing dismay at Manning's treatment. There were at least eight other demonstrations around the world, including in London, Sydney and Berlin.
Manning has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day and forced to strip naked for inspection each night after he quipped - innocently, his attorney said - about suicide. Prison psychiatrists have said Manning does not represent a danger to himself.