Bradley Manning: Hero, or Traitor?
By Marjorie Cohn
published by Portside
December 23, 2011
The end of
with Bradley Manning's military hearing to determine
whether he will face court-martial for exposing
crimes by leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of
classified documents to Wikileaks. In fact, there is a
connection between the leaks and
When he announced that the last
Iraq by year's end, President Barack Obama declared the
nine-year war a "success" and "an extraordinary
achievement." He failed to mention why he opposed the
built on lies about mushroom clouds and non-existent
ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Obama didn't
cite the Bush administration's "Plan for Post-Saddam
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reported that actual
plans "were already being discussed to take over
and occupy it - complete with disposition of oil fields,
peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals - carrying
forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also defended the war in
and Iraqi lives, "I think the price has been worth it,
to establish a stable government in a very important
region of the world."
The price that Panetta claims is worth it includes the
deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis. It includes untold numbers wounded
- with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder - and suicides, as well as nearly $1 trillion
that could have prevented the economic disaster at home.
The price of the
who have been subjected to torture and abuse in places
like Abu Ghraib prison. It includes the 2005 Haditha
Massacre, in which
civilians execution-style. It includes the Fallujah
Massacre, in which
least 60% of them women and children. It includes other
war crimes committed by American troops in Qaim,
Jal, Mukaradeeb, Mahmudiya, Hamdaniyah,
Salahuddin, and Ishaqi.
The price of that war includes two men killed by the
Army's Lethal Warriors in Al Doura,
evidence that they were insurgents or posed a threat.
One man's brains were removed from his head and another
man's face was skinned after he was killed by Lethal
Warriors. U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded
two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to
military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that
he witnessed being committed by his own command and
fellow Lethal Warriors in Al Doura. His charges were
supported by atrocity photos which have been released by
Pulse TV and Maverick Media in the new video by Cindy
Piester, "On the Dark Side in Al Doura - A Soldier in
the Shadows." [http://vimeo.com/33755968]. CBS reported
obtaining an Army document from the Criminal
Investigation Command suggestive of an investigation
into these war crimes allegations. The Army's conclusion
was that the "offense of War Crimes did not occur."
One of the things Manning is alleged to have leaked is
the "Collateral Murder" video which depicts
in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians,
including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two
children. People trying to rescue the wounded were also
fired upon and killed. A
cutting the man in half.
The actions of American soldiers shown in that video
amount to war crimes under the
prohibit targeting civilians, preventing the rescue of
the wounded, and defacing dead bodies.
Obama proudly took credit for ending
extend it beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline his
predecessor negotiated with the Iraqi government.
Negotiations between Obama and the Iraqi government
broke down when
It was after seeing evidence of war crimes such as those
depicted in "Collateral Murder" and the "
also allegedly leaked by Manning, that the Iraqis
refused to immunize
their future crimes. When I spoke with Tariq Aqrawi,
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, at a recent
international human rights film festival in
told me that if they granted immunity to Americans, they
would have to do the same for other countries as well.
Manning faces more than 30 charges, including "aiding
the enemy" and violations of the Espionage Act, which
carry the death penalty. After a seven day hearing,
during which the prosecution presented evidence that
Manning leaked cables and documents, there was no
evidence that leaked information imperiled national
security or that Manning intended to aid the enemy with
On the contrary, in an online chat attributed to
Manning, he wrote, "If you had free reign over
classified networks. and you saw incredible things,
awful things. things that belonged in the public domain,
and not on some server stored in a dark room in
He went on to say, "God knows what happens now.
Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. I
want people to see the truth. because without
information, you cannot make informed decisions as a
Manning has been held for 19 months in military custody.
During the first nine months, he was kept in solitary
confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead
to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide. He was
humiliated by being stripped naked and paraded before
most dangerous traitors. Months ago, Obama spoke of
Manning as if he had been proved guilty, saying, "he
broke the law." But Manning has not been tried, and is
presumed innocent in the eyes of the law. If Manning had
committed war crimes instead of exposing them, he would
be a free man today. If he had murdered civilians and
skinned them alive, he would not be facing the death
Besides helping to end the
helped spark the Arab Spring. When people in Tunisia
read cables revealing corruption by the ruling family
there, they took to the streets.
If Manning did what he is accused of doing, he should
not be tried as a criminal. He should be hailed as a
national hero, much like Daniel Ellsberg, whose release
of the Pentagon Papers helped to expose the government's
lies and end the Vietnam War.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson
School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers
Guild. Her books include "Rules of Disengagement: The
Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" and "The United
States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and
Abuse." See www.marjoriecohn.com.
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