Whistleblower Bradley Manning is now on trial. Military prosecutors are pursuing the charges of aiding the enemy, violation of the Espionage Act, and “putting the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.” Likely sentence: life in prison, but the death penalty is possible.
A strong message is being sent by the Obama Administration: repress dissent, stifle critique, and punish those who challenge the prerogatives, or expose the crimes of the powerful. The assault on democracy continues apace.
Manning is accused of sending classified files (none “Top Secret”) and videos, including the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, to Wikileaks. Some of the material contains heart-wrenching evidence of war crimes (a small trove in a mountain of war crimes perpetrated). Soldiers are under a legal obligation to report war crimes. Manning upheld that duty.
An Apache helicopter gunship kills 12 civilians (including two AP reporters) and wounds two children, then fires on and kills those trying to rescue the wounded. A tank drives by and cuts a body in half. In mockery, the killers laugh. That is the “Collateral Murder” video (CMV). Watch it and scream. These are war crimes, three among thousands, many far worse.
These war crimes follow from what at Nuremberg was called “The Supreme International Crime,” i.e. the crime of international aggression, for which no U.S. leader has been held legally accountable. The U.S. president is therefore not upholding his Constitutional obligation to enforce the law. We should note it is the leaders (the planners and perpetrators of aggression) who “put the lives of soldiers [and civilians] at risk.”
Manning brought his concerns to his superiors. Violating their legal and moral obligation, they refused to investigate the war crimes and other “war porn” about which Manning was concerned. Manning said, “I was disturbed by the response to injured children” and bothered by soldiers who “seemed to not value human life.” Caring for life is the crime.
The assault on democracy continues apace.
Manning is accused of “aiding the enemy” and there is truth in the accusation when we understand that the real enemy of (and only real threat to) destructive U.S. power is the people of the U.S. Manning aided the people in gaining wider knowledge and a clearer understanding of the mass horrors and egregious destruction imposed on the Iraqi people by U.S. power.
In short, Bradley Manning aided democracy, and will likely be punished severely for it. The victims of U.S. crimes in Iraq already know those crimes, so that “enemy” is not aided by repetitive information. Those aiding the so called “enemy” are the originators and perpetrators of the crimes: the aggression, the missile strikes, the drone strikes, the torture, and renditions, etc.
“Every violation of the law of war is a war crime” (U.S. Army Field Manual). The “law of war” contained in the Geneva Conventions tells us that making the civilian population the object of attack is a grave breach. The CMV reveals a vicious breach.
Harming those caring for the wounded violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions: “No one shall be harmed . . . for such humanitarian acts.” The Apache helicopter in the CMV fires on and kills civilian rescuers.
A soldier’s obligation to report violations of the “law of war” is enshrined in the “US Army Subject Schedule.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice places soldiers under a duty to refuse to obey unlawful orders. Therefore, an order to suppress clear evidence of war crimes is an unlawful order. In essence, Manning is accused of not suppressing the evidence. By following his legal (and moral) obligation he is accused of illegal action.
Imagine the U.S. under monstrous attack by a massive superpower carrying out egregious war crimes against us, killing and maiming millions, and destroying much of our society. Then, imagine a brave soldier inside that “other” superpower releasing documents to the public to educate them about the atrocities being perpetrated against us with the hope that the revelations might assist in stopping the brutality and suffering. Would we laud that soldier as a great hero or denounce them as a criminal?
Manning believed his heroic actions would assist in helping the people of the U.S. both understand the situation of the Iraqi people and also reconsider the systemic and serial nature of U.S. power’s aggression against other countries and people.
But truth-tellers in criminal enterprises, in a world of systemic deceit, surveillance, and misinformation, are always a threat. Again, the real enemy in a warfare state is democracy, i.e. the people. It is a lesson for all.
Doug Morris grew up in Harrisburg and now teaches at Eastern New Mexico University.He spends summers and holidays in Mechanicsburg. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WikiLeaks has released a new trove of documents, more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976, which they have dubbed “The Kissinger Cables,” after Henry Kissinger, who in those years served as secretary of state and assistant to the president for national security affairs.
One cable includes a transcribed conversation where Kissinger displays remarkable candor: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
While the illegal and the unconstitutional may be a laughing matter for Kissinger, who turns 90 next month, it is deadly serious for Pvt. Bradley Manning. After close to three years in prison, at least eight months of which in conditions described by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Manning recently addressed the court at Fort Meade: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
These words of Manning’s were released anonymously, in the form of an audio recording made clandestinely, that we broadcast on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. This was Bradley Manning, in his own voice, in his own words, explaining his actions.
He testified about the helicopter gunship video that he released to WikiLeaks, which was later made public under the title “Collateral Murder.” In stark, grainy black-and-white, it shows the gunship kill 12 men in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, with audio of the helicopter crew mocking the victims, celebrating the senseless murder of the people below, two of whom were employees of the Reuters news agency.
Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust of the aerial weapons team. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
Reuters had sought the video through a Freedom of Information request, but had been denied. So Manning delivered the video, along with hundreds of thousands of other classified electronic documents, through the anonymous, secure online submission procedure developed by WikiLeaks. Manning made the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and changed the world.
The WikiLeaks team gathered at a rented house in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare the video for public release. Among those working was Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. She told me: “When I saw the video in February 2010, I was profoundly moved. I was moved to tears, like many people that watch it. But at the same time, I understood its significance and how it might be able to change our world and make it better.”
Jonsdottir co-founded the Icelandic Pirate Party, a genuine political party springing up in many, mostly European countries. A lifelong activist, she calls herself a “pixel pirate.”
The “Collateral Murder” video created a firestorm of press attention when it was first released. One of the soldiers on the ground was Ethan McCord, who rushed to the scene of the slaughter and helped save two children who had been injured in the attack. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He recently penned a letter of support for Bradley Manning, writing: “The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.”
In the three years since “Collateral Murder” was released in April 2010, WikiLeaks has come under tremendous pressure. Manning faces life in prison or possibly even the death penalty. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent a year and a half under house arrest in Britain, until he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has remained since June 2012, fighting extradition to Sweden. He fears Sweden could then extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury may have already issued a sealed indictment against him. Private details from Jonsdottir’s Twitter and four other online accounts have been handed over to U.S. authorities.
WikiLeaks’ latest release, which includes documents already declassified but very difficult to search and obtain, is a testament to the ongoing need for WikiLeaks and similar groups. The revealed documents have sparked controversies around the world, even though they relate to the 1970s. If we had a uniform standard of justice, Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger would be the one on trial, and Bradley Manning would win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.