Monday, September 20, 2010

Bradley Manning: American Hero

Bradley Manning: American Hero


Monday 20 September 2010


by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis


Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is accused of leaking

military secrets to the public. This week, his

supporters are holding rallies in 21 cities, seeking

Manning's release from military custody. Manning is in

the brig for allegedly disclosing a classified video

depicting US troops shooting civilians from an Apache

helicopter in Iraq in July 2007. The video, available

at, was published by

WikiLeaks on April 5, 2010. Manning faces 52 years in

prison. No charges have been filed against the soldiers

in the video.


In October 1969, the most famous whistleblower, Daniel

Ellsberg, smuggled out of his office and made public a

7,000-page top secret study of decision-making during

the Vietnam War. It became known as the Pentagon

Papers. Ellsberg risked his future, knowing that he

would likely spend life in prison for his expose.


The release of the Pentagon Papers ultimately helped

end not only the Nixon presidency but also the Vietnam

War, in which 58,000 Americans and three million

Indochinese were killed. Dan's courageous act was

essential to holding accountable our leaders who had

betrayed American values by starting and perpetuating

an illegal and deadly war.


Manning's alleged crimes follow in this tradition. The

2007 video, called "Collateral Murder," has been viewed

by millions of people on the Internet. On it, US

military Apache helicopter soldiers from Bravo Company

2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment can be seen

killing 12 civilians and wounding two children in Iraq.

The dead included two employees of the Reuters news agency.


The video shows US forces watching as a van pulled up

to evacuate the wounded. They again opened fire from

the helicopter, killing more people. During the radio

chatter between the helicopter crew members and their

supervisors, one crew member gloated after the first

shooting, saying, "Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards."


One Iraqi witness told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

"The helicopter came yesterday from there and hovered

around. Then it came right here where a group of people

were standing. They didn't have any weapons or arms of

any sort. This area doesn't have armed insurgents. They

destroyed the place and shot at people, and they didn't

let anyone help the wounded."


Another witness said, "They killed all the wounded and

drove over their bodies. Everyone witnessed it. And the

journalist was among those who was injured, and the

armored vehicle drove over his body."


Journalist Rick Rowley reported that the man who was

driven over had crawled out of the van and was still

alive when the American tank drove over him and cut him in half.


Commanders decided that the wounded children would not

be taken to a US military field hospital. Ethan McCord,

one of the soldiers on the scene who picked up one of

the children and tried to take him to a military

vehicle, was reprimanded for his response.


The US Central Command exonerated the soldiers and

refused to reopen the investigation. Reporters Without

Borders said, "If this young soldier had not leaked the

video, we would have no evidence of what was clearly a

serious abuse on the part of the US military."


In fact, the actions depicted in "Collateral Murder"

contain evidence of three violations of the laws of war

set forth in the Geneva Conventions, which amount to war crimes.


There were civilians standing around, there was no one

firing at the American soldiers, and at least two

people had cameras. There may have been people armed,

as are many in the United States, but this does not

create the license to fire on people. That is one

violation of the Geneva Conventions -- targeting

civilians who do not pose a threat, not for military necessity.


The second and third possible violations of the laws of

war are evident in the scene on the tape when the van

attempts to rescue the wounded, and a later scene of a

US tank rolling over a body on the ground. The soldiers

shot the rescuer and those in the van, another possible

violation of the Geneva Conventions -- preventing the

rescue. Third, when the wounded or dead man was lying

on the ground, a US tank rolled over him, effectively

splitting him in two. If he was dead, that amounted to

disrespecting a body, another violation of the Geneva Conventions.


Josh Steiber, a former US Army specialist and member of

the Bravo Company 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment,

was not with his company during the killing of

civilians depicted in "Collateral Murder." Steiber told

Truthout that such acts were "not isolated incidents"

and were "common" during his tour of duty. "After

watching the video, I would definitely say that that

is, nine times out of 10, the way things ended up," he said.


Steiber explained that during his basic training for

the military, "We watched videos celebrating death,"

and said his commanders would "pull aside soldiers

who'd not deployed, and ask us if somebody open fired

on us in a market full of unarmed civilians, would we

return fire. And if you didn't say 'yes' instantly, you

got yelled at for not being a good soldier. The mindset

of military training was one based on fear, and the

ability to eliminate any threat."


Manning is also being investigated for allegedly

leaking the "Afghan War Diary" documents that were

posted on WikiLeaks in coordination with the New York

Times, the U.K. Guardian, and the German magazine Der

Spiegel. But President Obama said, ". . . the fact is,

these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't

already informed our public debate on Afghanistan."


Those reports expose 20,000 deaths, including thousands

of children, according to WikiLeaks founder Julian

Assange. Many of them also likely contain evidence of war crimes.


Besides the fact that targeting civilians is illegal,

it also makes us less safe. A new study by the National

Bureau of Economic Research, which was released by the

New America Foundation, concluded that civilian attacks

in Afghanistan make our troops more vulnerable due to

retaliation. A typical incident that causes two Afghan

civilian deaths provokes six revenge attacks by Taliban

and other fighters.


Moreover, Marine Col. David Lapan, a senior Pentagon

spokesman, said that so far there is no evidence that

the Taliban has harmed any Afghan civilians as a result

of the WikiLeaks publication of the 76,000 logs this

past summer.


Over 1,000 Americans and untold numbers of Afghans have

been killed in this war, which is just as illegal,

expensive, and counter-productive as the one in Iraq.


The charges against Bradley Manning end with the

language, "such conduct being prejudicial to good order

and discipline in the armed forces and being of a

nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces." On

the contrary, if Manning did what he is suspected of

doing, he should be honored as an American hero for

exposing war crimes and hopefully, ultimately, helping

to end this war.


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