Whether the Obama administration wanted to punish Bradley Manning with three years of pre-trial imprisonment under the worst conditions, or was just incompetent is a small detail, neither of which reflects well on it.
Well, the court-martial of Bradley Manning is really the last ugly chapter of our sordid and ugly Iraq War. A war that we rushed into catastrophically, in no small part because of extreme government secrecy, is now ending in the trial of a truth teller behind a veil of extreme government secrecy. Now, none of the CIA torturers, much less Bush and Cheney, were put on trial, but Washington has finally found a scapegoat in a young Army private who leaked these important documents. Now, to put things in perspective, this is the biggest security breach in U.S. history, but it’s also less than 1 percent of what Washington classifies in a given year. It has not put us on the brink of total transparency. It has not caused diplomatic Armageddon. And there is no concrete evidence whatsoever that any civilian or soldier has been harmed by the leaks. On the other hand, we have a very clear understanding of what the Iraq War was really all about and what our Afghan War is still all about. And the leaks have sparked important debates and even reforms, and in the case of Tunisia, did help spark an uprising that overthrew a hated dictator there. What’s not to like?
Absolutely nothing. But it’s all in the framing. The prosecution had its own perspective.
In an hour-long opening statement for the prosecution on Monday, Captain Joe Morrow told the court martial that the US army private had been motivated by a craving for “notoriety” that had led him to disregard his extensive training and to the “aid of our adversaries”.
The prosecution statement made new allegations about the links between Manning and Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. Morrow said that Manning had directly assisted in the editing of the Apache helicopter video of a US attack on civilians in Baghdad, and the court was shown extracts of a chat log between the soldier and Assange.
Prosecutors also alleged that Manning had been guided in his searches by the WikiLeaks “most wanted list”.
There’s also the OBL gambit.
The court will hear – either in person at a secret session of the trial, or in an affidavit – from an anonymous witness called only “John Doe”, who is believed to be one of the 22 US Navy Seals who killed Bin Laden in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The witness will testify that he retrieved from the compound three items of digital media that contained WikiLeaks material.
The prosecution will present evidence to the court that the items retrieved from Bin Laden’s compound included a letter written by the al-Qaida leader to an aide, asking for them to download US defence information from WikiLeaks. The same al-Qaida operative then replied to Bin Laden attaching the Afghan war logs and department of state information released by WikiLeaks.
Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding over the court martial in the absence of a jury, has ruled that for Manning to be found guilty of “aiding the enemy” the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knowingly gave helpful information to al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a third terrorist group whose identity remains classified. The route by which Manning communicated with al-Qaida can be indirect, through Wikileaks, the judge has directed, though the soldier must have had a “general evil intent in that he had to know he was dealing with an enemy of the United States”.
A defence motion calling on all reference to al-Qaida to be ruled inadmissible on grounds that it was irrelevant and prejudicial was denied by Lind in an earlier hearing.
That video didn’t need editing, to render it egregious, and he didn’t violate the law or endanger others.
Manning is charged with crimes for sending hundreds of thousands of classified files, documents and videos, including the “Collateral Murder” video, the “Iraq War Logs,” the “Afghan War Logs” and State Department cables to Wikileaks. Many of the things he transmitted contain evidence of war crimes.
The “Collateral Murder” video depicts a US Apache attack helicopter killing 12 civilians and wounding two children on the ground in Baghdad in 2007. The helicopter then fired on and killed the people trying to rescue the wounded. Finally, a US tank drove over one of the bodies, cutting the man in half. These acts constitute three separate war crimes.
Manning fulfilled his legal duty to report war crimes. He complied with his legal duty to obey lawful orders but also his legal duty to disobey unlawful orders.
Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states, “Every violation of the law of war is a war crime.” The law of war is contained in the Geneva Conventions.
Article 85 of the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach. The firing on and killing of civilians shown in the “Collateral Murder” video violated this provision of Geneva.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions requires that the wounded be collected and cared for. Article 17 of the First Protocol states that the civilian population “shall be permitted, even on their own initiative, to collect and care for the wounded.” That article also says, “No one shall be harmed . . . for such humanitarian acts.” The firing on rescuers portrayed in the “Collateral Murder” video violates these provisions of Geneva.
Finally, Section 27-10 of the Army Field Manual states that “maltreatment of dead bodies” is a war crime. When the Army jeep drove over the dead body, it violated this provision.
Enshrined in the US Army Subject Schedule No. 27-1 is “the obligation to report all violations of the law of war.” At his guilty plea hearing, Manning explained that he had gone to his chain of command and asked them to investigate the “Collateral Murder” video and other “war porn,” but his superiors refused. “I was disturbed by the response to injured children,” Manning stated. He was also bothered by the soldiers depicted in the video who “seemed to not value human life by referring to [their targets] as ‘dead bastards.’ ”
The Uniform Code of Military Justice sets forth the duty of a service member to obey lawful orders. But that duty includes the concomitant duty to disobey unlawful orders. An order not to reveal classified information that contains evidence of war crimes would be an unlawful order. Manning had a legal duty to reveal the commission of war crimes.
Gary Younge argues that “hypocrisy lies at the heart of the Bradley Manning trial“.
If the leaks laid bare the hypocritical claim that the US was exporting democracy, then the nature of his incarceration and prosecution illustrate the fallacy of its insistence that it is protecting both freedom and security at home. Manning’s treatment since his arrest in May 2010 has involved a number of serious human rights violations.
I am embarrassed by a government, that, after the Ellsberg precedent and the Vietnam War in itself, has reverted to incompetence in war and diplomacy, and then, like an adolescent smelling his own armpits, has to be both creepy, by expanding the legal scope of “aiding the enemy”, and trapped in its own propaganda, by insisting that it is promoting democracy by extra-constitutional, preventive warfare. I thought the prejudice, that the government was immaculately insulated from error, died with the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration. I assumed a younger generation was hardened by the sins of its predecessors and righteous for atonement. Instead, we got a clique of avenging monsters, like Cheney and Rumsfeld, abetted by an adolescent military establishment hungry for glory and schemes for profit with contractors peddling sophisticate hardware that hasn’t made the country safer or made the average citizen better off. Americans don’t need an enemy – we are our own nightmare.