PFC Bradley Manning and the State of Our Society
By Dennis Loo (3/2/13)
As most people now know, Bradley Manning has admitted to certain charges of releasing information to WikiLeaks. He faces the possibility, if convicted on the most serious charges, of the death penalty for “aiding and abetting the enemy” and will almost certainly do serious time in prison, possibly as much as twenty years, if the government does not succeed in bringing capital charges against him and if a movement that is loud, determined, and large enough does not succeed in beating back these charges against him.
His case is as clear evidence as there is now of how upside down the world is.
What Bradley Manning did in releasing the materials that show war crimes routinely being committed by the U.S. government and government’s and military’s systematic lying and hypocrisy is what a person should do when they learn that crimes are being committed. Manning ought to be lauded as a heroic whistleblower, rather than treated as a criminal, kept in solitary confinement for months on end, vilified, and possibly executed.
Those who he has exposed, including those who have gone after this courageous young man in such a vengeful manner, from Barack Mr. Peace Prize Obama and Joe “High tech terrorism” Biden to the right-wing media mob, who either tolerate the practice of torture or openly bray in support of it, should be the ones before the dock at the Hague.
Before he released material to WikiLeaks, Manning attempted to release it to The New YorkTimes, the Washington Post and to Politico. The Times and Post were not interested, and he was unable to reach Politico. Driven by his conscience, he then sent it to the other major journalistic outlet that he knew of, WikiLeaks. Journalists as watchdogs, as most of us were taught they were supposed to be, barely exists now. Instead, we have stenographers to power and two of the very few actual journalistic organizations that remain like WikiLeaks and al-Jazeera are treated as terrorists and targets for assassination by our government.
In reading Manning’s words, I am struck by how it sounds like I am reading a sci-fi novel, a monologue by someone writing from a space station or a distant planet’s station, about what he has been doing and what he has been finding. He is very detailed and methodical and one gets a very vivid sense of who this narrator is. Here is some of his statement. I have interspersed some of my commentary on it.
I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs [Significant Acts] documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.
In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I [Combined Information Data Network Exchange] and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day.
Contrast these three preceding paragraphs to the COIN strategy that Gen. David Petraeus has been praised for. Manning came to conclude based on his exhaustive and careful analysis of SigActs themselves that the “second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals” showed the futility and counter-productiveness of COIN. Note that Manning was not and is not approaching these data as someone opposed to what he believed the mission to be for these invasions and occupations. Manning was not and does not now appear to be a critic of war or of imperialist domination. He released these materials because he came to the inescapable conclusion that these policies were a) a failure, b) made enemies rather than friends, and c) were wrong. He released them believing that “the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even engage in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of people living in the effected environment every day.”
One of my initial reactions to reading this was to marvel at Manning’s political innocence – that he would believe that it was merely a matter of getting this material into the public’s hands and that they would reach conclusions similar to him. And it is certainly possible today to continue to think that he is and was politically naïve. As he describes in the next section, he believed that The New York Times and the Washington Post would be interested in what he had to give them, which indicates that he did not understand the fact – at least at the time - that these media organizations are enmeshed in an incestuous relationship with the government. The Washington Post is actually to the right of the Democratic Party and the Times rarely steps out of lockstep with the White House, regardless of who is in the Oval Office. This reluctance to challenge the government’s lies would stand out when the Times and the Washington Post later released, edited, and framed the materials that were first released by WikiLeaks.
But on a more fundamental level, Manning is and was absolutely right: it is precisely because this material is so exposing and explosive that the powers that be have gone after him and WikiLeaks with their knives drawn. From the White House to the Pentagon to Fox News they understand very deeply how dangerous revealing to the public these truths can be and how important it is that the mainstream media and right-wing media be as far from investigative journalists and watchdogs as they are today.
At my aunt's house I debated what I should do with the SigActs-- in particular whether I should hold on to them-- or expose them through a press agency. At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local newspaper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.
Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.
I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.
I also briefly considered dropping into the office for the Political Commentary blog, Politico, however the weather conditions during my leave hampered my efforts to travel. After these failed efforts I had ultimately decided to submit the materials to the WLO. I was not sure if the WLO would actually publish these SigAct tables [missed a few words]. I was concerned that they might not be noticed by the American media. However, based upon what I read about the WLO through my research described above, this seemed to be the best medium for publishing this information to the world within my reach.
At my aunts house I joined in on an IRC conversation and stated I had information that needed to be shared with the world. I wrote that the information would help document the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the individuals in the IRC asked me to describe the information. However, before I could describe the information another individual pointed me to the link for the WLO web site online submission system. After ending my IRC connection, I considered my options one more time. Ultimately, I felt that the right thing to do was to release the SigActs.
On 3 February 2010, I visited the WLO website on my computer and clicked on the submit documents link. Next I found the submit your information online link and elected to submit the SigActs via the onion router or TOR anonymizing network by special link. TOR is a system intended to provide anonymity online. The software routes internet traffic through a network of servers and other TOR clients in order to conceal the user's location and identity.
I was familiar with TOR and had it previously installed on a computer to anonymously monitor the social media website of militia groups operating within central Iraq. I followed the prompts and attached the compressed data files of CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A SigActs. I attached a text file I drafted while preparing to provide the documents to the Washington Post. It provided rough guidelines saying 'It's already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information-- perhaps 90 to 100 days to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect its source. This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.'
After sending this, I left the SD card in a camera case at my aunt's house in the event I needed it again in the future. I returned from mid-tour leave on 11 February 2010. Although the information had not yet been publicly by the WLO, I felt this sense of relief by them having it. I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan everyday.
Facts regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of 10 Reykjavik 13.
I first became aware of the diplomatic cables during my training period in AIT. I later learned about the Department of State or DoS Net-centric Diplomacy NCD portal from the 2/10 Brigade Combat Team S2, Captain Steven Lim. Captain Lim sent a section wide email to the other analysts and officer in late December 2009 containing the SIPRnet link to the portal along with the instructions to look at the cables contained within them and to incorporate them into our work product.
Shortly after this I also noticed the diplomatic cables were being reported to in products from the corp level US Forces Iraq or US-I. Based upon Captain Lim's direction to become familiar with its contents, I read virtually every published cable concerning Iraq.
I also began scanning the database and reading other random cables that piqued my curiosity. It was around this time-- in early to mid-January of 2010, that I began searching the database for information on Iceland. I became interested in Iceland due to the IRC conversations I viewed in the WLO channel discussing an issue called Icesave. At this time I was not very familiar with the topic, but it seemed to be a big issue for those participating in the conversation. This is when I decided to investigate and conduct a few searches on Iceland and find out more.
At the time, I did not find anything discussing the Icesave issue either directly or indirectly. I then conducted an open source search for Icesave. I then learned that Iceland was involved in a dispute with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands concerning the financial collapse of one or more of Iceland's banks. According to open source reporting much of the public controversy involved the United Kingdom's use of anti-terrorism legislation against Iceland in order to freeze Icelandic access for payment of the guarantees for UK depositors that lost money.
Shortly after returning from mid-tour leave, I returned to the Net Centric Diplomacy portal to search for information on Iceland and Icesave as the topic had not abated on the WLO IRC channel. To my surprise, on 14 February 2010, I found the cable 10 Reykjavik 13, which referenced the Icesave issue directly.
The cable published on 13 January 2010 was just over two pages in length. I read the cable and quickly concluded that Iceland was essentially being bullied diplomatically by two larger European powers. It appeared to me that Iceland was out viable options and was coming to the US for assistance. Despite the quiet request for assistance, it did not appear that we were going to do anything.
From my perspective it appeared that we were not getting involved due to the lack of long term geopolitical benefit to do so. After digesting the contents of 10 Reykjavik 13 I debated whether this was something I should send to the WLO. At this point the WLO had not published or acknowledged receipt of the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables. Despite not knowing that the SigActs were a priority for the WLO, I decided the cable was something that would be important. I felt that I would be able to right a wrong by having them publish this document. I burned the information onto a CD-RW on 15 February 2010, took it to my CHU, and saved it onto my personal laptop.
I navigated to the WLO website via a TOR connection like before and uploaded the document via the secure form. Amazingly, when WLO published 10 Reykjavik 13 within hours, proving that the form worked and that they must have received the SigAct tables.
Here again we see the simultaneously naïve and yet morally just position that Manning was and is proceeding from: Iceland was being hung out to dry by the US and England and as a Defense Analyst, he had access to the documents that proved it.
Facts regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the 12 July 2007 aerial weapons team or AW team video.
During the mid-February 2010 time frame the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division targeting analysts, then Specialist Jihrleah W. Showman discussed a video that Ms. Showman had found on the 'T' drive.
The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an aerial weapons team. At first I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other war porn type videos depicting combat. However, the recording of audio comments by the aerial weapons team crew and the second engagement in the video of an unarmed bongo truck troubled me.
As Showman and a few other analysts and officers in the T-SCIF commented on the video and debated whether the crew violated the rules of engagement or ROE in the second engagement, I shied away from this debate, instead conducting some research on the event. I wanted to learn what happened and whether there was any background to the events of the day that the event occurred, 12 July 2007.
Using Google I searched for the event by its date by its general location. I found several new accounts involving two Reuters employees who were killed during the aerial weapon team engagement. Another story explained that Reuters had requested for a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Reuters wanted to view the video in order to understand what had happened and to improve their safety practices in combat zones. A spokesperson for Reuters was quoted saying that the video might help avoid the reoccurrence of the tragedy and believed there was a compelling need for the immediate release of the video.
Despite the submission of the FOIA request, the news account explained that CENTCOM replied to Reuters stating that they could not give a time frame for considering a FOIA request and that the video might no longer exist. Another story I found written a year later said that even though Reuters was still pursuing their request. They still did not receive a formal response or written determination in accordance with FOIA.
The fact neither CENTCOM or Multi National Forces Iraq or MNF-I would not voluntarily release the video troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the aerial weapons team mistakenly identified Reuters employees as a potential threat and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat but merely 'good samaritans'. The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.
They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote “dead bastards” unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.
While saddened by the aerial weapons team crew’s lack of concern about human life, I was disturbed by the response of the discovery of injured children at the scene. In the video, you can see that the bongo truck driving up to assist the wounded individual. In response the aerial weapons team crew—as soon as the individuals are a threat, they repeatedly request for authorization to fire on the bongo truck and once granted they engage the vehicle at least six times.
Shortly after the second engagement, a mechanized infantry unit arrives at the scene. Within minutes, the aerial weapons team crew learns that children were in the van and despite the injuries the crew exhibits no remorse. Instead, they downplay the significance of their actions, saying quote ‘Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kid’s into a battle’ unquote.
The aerial weapons team crew members sound like they lack sympathy for the children or the parents. Later in a particularly disturbing manner, the aerial weapons team verbalizes enjoyment at the sight of one of the ground vehicles driving over a body—or one of the bodies. As I continued my research, I found an article discussing the book, The Good Soldiers, written by Washington Post writer David Finkel.
In Mr. Finkel book, he writes about the aerial weapons team attack. As, I read an online excerpt in Google Books, I followed Mr. Finkel’s account of the event belonging to the video. I quickly realize that Mr. Finkel was quoting, I feel in verbatim, the audio communications of the aerial weapons team crew.
It is clear to me that Mr. Finkel obtained access and a copy of the video during his tenue as an embedded journalist. I was aghast at Mr. Finkel’s portrayal of the incident. Reading his account, one would believe the engagement was somehow justified as ‘payback’ for an earlier attack that lead to the death of a soldier. Mr. Finkel ends his account by discussing how a soldier finds an individual still alive from the attack. He writes that the soldier finds him and sees him gesture with his two forefingers together, a common method in the Middle East to communicate that they are friendly. However, instead of assisting him, the soldier makes an obscene gesture extending his middle finger.
The individual apparently dies shortly thereafter. Reading this, I can only think of how this person was simply trying to help others, and then he quickly finds he needs help as well. To make matter worse, in the last moments of his life, he continues to express his friendly gesture—only to find himself receiving this well known gesture of unfriendliness. For me it’s all a big mess, and I am left wondering what these things mean, and how it all fits together. It burdens me emotionally.
Those who have seen the video he is describing here, what WikiLeaks released under the title “Collateral Murder,” know exactly what Manning is describing. He ends this segment saying, “It burdens me emotionally.”
It is precisely because Bradley Manning is capable of feeling these very human sentiments of emotionally being burdened by witnessing these atrocities that he came forward to expose them to others. He has done, as one individual, a tremendous service to the world. He has helped others to grapple with their own consciences and his trials - in prison, in the court room and in the court of public opinion - as a result of this will hopefully lead others to recognize the differences between the mass murderers and world-class hypocrites responsible for these wars and their related policies foreign and domestic and heroes like Bradley Manning. May others step forward themselves to do the right thing as Bradley Manning has done rather than looking the other way or worse still, actively engaging in committing atrocities. May there be many, many, more Bradley Mannings!