Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Killing the Messenger

Now we have the final shoe dropped upon Pfc Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army whistleblower who released hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks, including a notorious video of a U.S. Apache helicopter in Iraq massacring about a dozen people on July 12, 2007. For these actions, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. And though his legal team has announced that it will appeal, both to the military justice system and to the federal justice system, it will be a long time, if ever, before Pfc Bradley Manning sees the light of freedom again.

Clearly many people, including the President of the United States, believe Manning to be guilty as charged and will exult in his sentence. But the contradictions in the case—taking only the video for the moment—should give every American pause. For what we have is a situation where the man who publicized the video of what many have called a war crime, is sentenced to 35 years in prison, while those who committed the crime, the helicopter pilots, have gone scot free. What Manning clearly intended was for everyone to see the video in all its horrifying detail: the Reuters photographer gunned down as he tried to flee, and, most disturbing of all, a “good Samaritan” van coming to try to help the wounded also attacked, resulting in the death of the driver and the traumatizing of the children accompanying their father in his rescue mission. As Manning himself put it, the most “alarming aspect of the video” was the

“seemingly delightful bloodlust they [the weapons team members] appeared to have. This 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. 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.” (from Ray McGovern, “The Moral Imperative of Bradley Manning,” Consortium News,  6.3.2013.)
Bradley Manning’s response to this, and to other materials he came across in “after battle reports” from Iraq, was to make them public on the Wikileaks website. Manning hoped that Americans would be as alarmed as he was about the conduct of the war, and about the fact that the people in Iraq and Afghanistan who were being dehumanized by those attempting to justify killing them, were human beings “struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call assymetric warfare.” That was Bradley Manning’s intention—though he was not allowed to mention this at his trial. His intentions were ruled irrelevant by the presiding judge. Only the “facts” were allowed into evidence.
Of course, not all the “facts” were allowed. As Robert Parry made clear in an Aug. 19 piece, “Did Manning Help Avert War in Iran?” also on, at least one of the other troves released by Manning—those diplomatic cables the State Department has been so atwitter about—may have prevented another war. This was a set of embassy cables from Vienna, site of the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency, the group charged with inspecting possible atomic violations) headquarters. In these cables, American diplomats (Geoffrey Pyatt, Glyn Davies, and others) were cheering the prospect that Yukiya Amano, recently named as new head of the IAEA, would “advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei wouldn’t.” This was because Amano, attributing his selection as IAEA head to U.S. support, was already signaling that he would side with the U.S. in its confrontation with Iran. Pyatt also noted that Amano had consulted not only with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli—to assure him he was on the ‘right’ side of the issue—but also with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission.  A later cable, on October 16, 2009, reported that Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that … he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program” (Parry, 8.19.13
Robert Parry concludes thusly: were it not for the presence of these cables—thanks to a Pfc named Bradley Manning—the United States might well have been pushed into an attack on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons facilities, and another war in the Middle East. But with the knowledge of Amano’s partiality to the U.S. and Israel already in the public domain, that would have been a very hard sell indeed. Instead of giving thanks to Manning, however, the State Department lacerated Manning for giving away state secrets and endangering American lives, and the military judge pronounced him guilty on all counts.
Thus we have the equation as it now stands: if you are a U.S. helicopter pilot who murders innocent civilians in cold blood, and gloats over it, you are treated as a good soldier, a warrior protected by the rules of combat. If, by contrast, you are a soldier who sees the murder of innocents as a war crime and feels the deep obligation to inform the public about it—and the Nuremberg precedents argue precisely this: that a soldier cannot escape his responsibility regarding war crimes because of “orders,” but must do everything he can to resist such crimes—you are treated by the United States government as a criminal, a traitor, a pariah deserving of 35 years in prison.
In ancient times, they used to kill the messenger. In our time, we are not so crude; we take pains to provide him with a cage, free meals, and ample time for contemplation.
Lawrence DiStasi

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