Bradley Manning: American Hero
Monday 20 September 2010
by: Marjorie Cohn, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
photo Participants at a Free Bradley Manning Rally.
(Photo: mar is sea Y)
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 www.collateralmurder.com, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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