Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Why Iraq whistle-blower Bradley deserves freedom

Army man: Bradley Manning — flanked by military police — released thousands of documents to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks
Army man: Bradley Manning — flanked by military police — released thousands of documents to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks

Bradley Manning will spend his 1,000th day in prison on Saturday.

Manning is the US soldier who blew the whistle on torture and murder in Iraq and Afghanistan and who, as a result, has been hailed by US politicians and media not as a hero who took a stand against atrocity, but as a traitor who aided the enemy.

Held since May 29, 2010, Manning spent 10 months in solitary confinement in conditions described by the UN Rapporteur on Torture as "cruel, inhuman and degrading". This included being made to stand to attention naked for roll-call.

Manning had made many thousands of classified documents detailing criminal behaviour available to the world via Julian Assange's WikiLeaks website.

Included was a video shot from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 showing US personnel seemingly gleefully gunning down a dozen people below, including two employees of Reuter's news agency – photojournalist Namir Noor -Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh.

(Google 'Collateral murder Iraq video' for the 17-minute sequence – and then ponder the fact that it's not the perpetrators, but the man who exposed them who finds himself behind bars facing life.)

The leaked documents covered thousands of reports of torture of prisoners; people hung from ceilings on hooks, scourged with metal cables, urinated on, sexually assaulted and maimed with electric drills.

Among other nuggets of horror revealed by Manning have been Department of Defense documents outlining the standing operating procedure for facilities such as Guantanamo Bay; cables from Tel Aviv detailing an Israeli policy designed to keep the economy of Gaza barely afloat ("functioning at the lowest level possible"); diplomatic communications from Port au Prince telling of a strategy of the Clinton presidency to block an increase in the Haitian minimum wage applying to textile workers mainly employed by US companies.

The Iraq revelations helped speed US withdrawal from the country. A cable provided by Manning described the summary execution by US troops of 10 civilians – a man, four women and five children, a number of them handcuffed behind their backs – and a subsequent air-strike to reduce the killing-ground to rubble and obliterate all trace of what had happened.

Exposure of the incident sparked outrage to the extent that the Iraqi government reinforced its refusal to grant US troops blanket immunity beyond 2011 for actions in Iraq. Negotiations on the terms on which US forces would stay on in an active role ended on this note.

Manning's exposure, via WikiLeaks, of an incident in Afghanistan in 2009 similarly accelerated the schedule for Western withdrawal.

On May 4, at midnight, a B52 bomber released its payload on to the village of Granai in Farah province.

The Red Cross estimated that 97 civilians had died, "more than half" of them children, as well as a much smaller number of Taliban fighters. The US military insisted that the ratio was the other way round: 60 to 65 Taliban fighters and a total of between 20 and 30 civilians.

However, a State Department cable written shortly after the event and made public by Manning related a discussion between the head of the Afghan Red Cross, Reto Stocker, and US Ambassador Carl Eikenberry, in which it was implied that the Red Cross was right: Stocker is referred to in the context of the figures as "one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan".

The revelation that the Afghan authorities had been kept out of the loop, as much as the incident itself, frayed what trust remained between Kabul and Washington.

Much more along the same lines and different lines was revealed to the public by Manning; from Western connivance with Arab dictators in rendition and torture to somewhat lighter scandals, such as the antics of Irish Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore in relation to EU reform in 2009 – thumping the table in public against a "nefarious" (his word) Fianna Fail plan to re-run the Lisbon referendum, which had been rejected by the people the previous year, while privately assuring the US ambassador that Labour would not only endorse a re-run, but advocate a Yes vote when it happened.

Bradley Manning can fairly claim to have exposed war-crimes and helped end wars, to have shone a light on the duplicity and double-talk of politicians and given the public sight of some of shameful things being done in its name. There are few of us who can say we have done the world such service.

Can we claim to believe in open government and the public's right to know if we do not raise our voices to demand his release?

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