"Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is this awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest" — Robert Gates, former United States Secretary of Defense
***[NOTE: This article was written before Chelsea Manning changed her name]
In a prepared statement Bradley Manning this week pleaded guilty to ten of the charges against him and revealed that before sending 251,287 US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks he had first approached and been rebuffed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, an unexpected twist in a saga that has polarized opinion on the young former intelligence analyst.
Casual viewers of mainstream media may believe Manning is a traitor who broke his oath to the US military; either that or they have never heard of him before. In contrast, to many who are familiar with all the facts of the case, Manning is a hero: a whistleblower in the bravest tradition.
As with most serious issues, stories on Manning are lodged amid endless sensationalist drivel about celebrities (Oscar Pistorius being the latest offering from the gods of distraction) or sports. Recent news would likely be summarized thus:
Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst awaiting trial for leaking classified US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, today pleaded guilty to ten of the lesser charges against him. He pleaded not guilty, however, to the more serious charge of 'aiding the enemy', one which potentially carries the death penalty (although prosecutors have stated that they will not seek Manning's execution).
The key words: trial/leaking/classified/US/Wikileaks/aiding the enemy/death penalty will lead the casual viewer to automatically assume that Manning is a traitor who deserves everything he gets; indeed many (US citizens in particular) would likely express anger and disbelief that the prosecution had taken the death penalty off the table.
This is why the Manning case is such a striking example of all that is wrong with the profit-driven media, entities concerned foremost with advertizing revenue, a fact of life at odds with the intended aims of the fourth estate: namely to neutrally inform viewers of all information that is in the public interest and also, crucially, to hold authority structures to account. The average viewer will know little or nothing of the background of the Manning case, and has further been subjected to years of falsehoods and smears with regard to the Wikileaks transparency organization and its founder. Unsurprisingly, our hypothetical viewer will be inclined at the very least toward a negative view.
As with every story since the dawn of civilization, the devil is in the details. For various reasons, news media tends to vastly oversimplify, a crucial error that precludes the complexity and ineffability of human behavior. In modern media, we are reduced to villains or heroes, law-abiding citizens or criminals, good or bad; and the only winners are the shareholders.
Bradley Manning deserves more than to be dismissed in such terms.
1. Manning attempted to tell his commanding officer about the criminal acts he found in the cables but was told to 'shut his mouth'.
2. In his chat logs (see link above) with Adrian Lamo, the man who turned him in, Manning makes it clear that his motives for wanting the information in the cables made public were neither profit nor self-promotion, but instead an altruistic desire to allow the world to learn the truth about the dishonest, immoral and criminal behavior of his own government.
3. The US government itself has never alleged that anyone has been harmed in any way by the release of the cables, an important point because it is regularly stated by lazy mainstream journalists that the leak 'endangered lives'.
4. Over 130,000 of the cables were in fact 'unclassified'; around 100,000 were 'confidential'; and about 15,000 were labeled 'secret'. None of the cables were 'top secret'.
5. More than 3 million US soldiers and officials had access to the cables. If this information was so vital to US national security, why would 3 million low-level staff (with all the obvious possible security holes) have free access to it?
6. Julian Assange emailed the US State department (via his lawyer Jennifer Robinson) offering it the chance to redact names of those whose safety might be at risk after disclosure. Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, rejected the offer (pdf) out of hand. Assange took this to mean that there was no significant risk to anyone in the cables and that the objections of the US government were due only to the potential embarrassment of any leak.
7. Much of the information revealed in the cables was humdrum everyday correspondence from US ambassadors, but a great deal contained information very much in the public interest which had no business being classified. Indeed, the leak proved something long suspected to be true: that in multiple cases, 'classified' in reality means 'embarrassing to the government'.
Embarrassing as follows:
It was official government policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
There IS (despite government claims to the opposite) an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians.
The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.
The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.
Every single one of these disclosures was in the public interest and were no threat to national security. They were classified simply to avoid severely embarrassing the State Department for acting illegally in, for example, ordering staff to acquire biometric data of top UN officials.
Note: this is a long list (sources in article linked above) but it demonstrates two things: firstly, that much of the information in the cables had nothing to do with national security and was definitely in the public interest, and secondly the sheer volume of information kept secret from the public by the US government - keep in mind that this is a tiny selection.
The U.S. Army considered WikiLeaks a national security threat as early as 2008, according to documents obtained and posted by WikiLeaks in March, 2010.
Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq beginning in 2006, according to the cross-referencing of WikiLeaks' leaked Iraq war documents and former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer's recollections.
The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture. A "confidential" April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid obtained by WikiLeaks details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.
A U.S. Army helicopter allegedly gunned down two journalists in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks posted a 40-minute video on its website in April, showing the attack in gruesome detail, along with an audio recording of the pilots during the attack.
Iran's military intervened aggressively in support of Shiite combatants in Iraq, offering weapons, training and sanctuary, according to an October, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of secret documents related to the Iraq war.
According to one tabulation, there have been 100,000 casualties, mostly civilian, in Iraq - greater than the numbers previously made public, many of them killed by American troops but most of them were killed by other Iraqis.
US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished..
US special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported, according to the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war document dump.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai freed suspected drug dealers because of their political connections, according to a secret diplomatic cable. The cable, which supports the multiple allegations of corruption within the Karzai government, said that despite repeated rebukes from U.S. officials in Kabul, the president and his attorney general authorized the release of detainees. Previous cables accused Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of being a corrupt narcotics trafficker.
Pakistan's government has allowed members of its spy network to hold strategy sessions on combating American troops with members of the Taliban, while Pakistan has received more than $1 billion a year in aid from Washington to help combat militants, according to a July, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of files on the Afghanistan war.
A stash of highly enriched uranium capable of providing enough material for multiple "dirty bombs" has been waiting in Pakistan for removal by an American team for more than three years but has been held up by the country's government, according to leaked classified State Department documents.
Five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross told U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that the Indian government "condones torture" and systematically abused detainees in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Red Cross told the officials that hundreds of detainees were subjected to beatings, electrocutions and acts of sexual humiliation, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Thursday evening.
The British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organizations as a "government death squad", leaked US embassy cables have revealed. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in "investigative interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement".
Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Saudi Arabia's rulers have deep distrust for some fellow Muslim countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, despite public appearances, according to documents from the late November, 2010, WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable dump. King Abdullah called Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari "the greatest obstacle" to the country's progress and he also repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war with Israel.
The United States was secretly given permission from Yemen's president to attack the al Qaeda group in his country that later attempted to blow up planes in American air space. President Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, in a leaked diplomatic cable from September 2009 that the U.S. had an "open door" on terrorism in Yemen.
Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. diplomats to do more to stop the flow of money to Islamist militant groups from donors in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, Clinton wrote, was reluctant to cut off money being sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan.
A storage facility housing Yemen's radioactive material was unsecured for up to a week after its lone guard was removed and its surveillance camera was broken, a secret U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Monday. "Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," a Yemeni official said on January 9 in the cable.
Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, constructed with apparent help from North Korea, fearing it was built to make a bomb. In a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote the Israelis targeted and destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor just weeks before it was to be operational.
Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January. The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network that some of the unpublished cables show "top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries."
Of the 500 or so tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, it is known that about 200 are deployed throughout Europe. Leaked diplomatic cables reveal that dozens of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Libyan government promised "enormous repercussions" for the U.K. if the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was not handled properly, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. The Libyan government threatened "harsh, immediate" consequences if the man jailed for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 died in prison in Scotland.
Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Not only did Pope Benedict refuse to allow Vatican officials to testify in an investigation by an Irish commission into alleged child sex abuse by priests, he was also reportedly furious when Vatican officials were called upon in Rome.
Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness carried out negotiations for the Good Friday agreement with Irish then-prime minister Bertie Ahern while the two had explicit knowledge of a bank robbery that the Irish Republican Army was planning to carry out, according to a WikiLeaks cable. Ahern figured Adams and McGuinness knew about the 26.5 million pound Northern Bank robbery of 2004 because they were members of the "IRA military command."
Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has infiltrated the highest levels of government in Nigeria. A high-ranking executive for the international Shell oil company once bragged to U.S. diplomats, as reported in a leaked diplomatic cable, that the company's employees had so well infiltrated the Nigerian government that officials had "forgotten" the level of the company's access.
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating Mugabe's chief opposition leader on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of a WikiLeaks' leaked cable. The cable claimed Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai encouraged Western sanctions against his own country to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America "needs a visible U.S. presence" to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's growing influence in the region, according to a U.S. State Department cable leaked to WikiLeaks.
A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable depicts the leader of Mexico's army "lamenting" its lengthy role in the anti-drug offensive, but expecting it to last between seven and 10 more years. The cable says Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan mistrusts other Mexican law enforcement agencies and prefers to work separately, because corrupt officials had leaked information in the past.
McDonald's tried to delay the US government's implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald's strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.
All this...thanks to Bradley Manning.
How much of the above background has been explained to the average viewer of mainstream media? Is it so surprising that so many believe Manning to be a traitor, when in fact the true betrayal is that of the US government and the corporate news outlets which are required under journalistic ethics to provide detailed, objective and impartial analysis of important stories like this one.
In releasing the cables after being rebuffed by 'official' channels (including chain of command), Manning showed rare strength of character and acted on his conscience, as any whistleblower must. He has done the world a great service in showing the mendacity and criminality of the US government and many of its allies, who hold enormous influence by virtue of their commercial and military reach over much of the planet.
In a just world, by sacrificing his freedom to raise vital awareness among the world's public, Bradley Manning would be released immediately and awarded every medal and prize for bravery that exists, not least the Nobel Peace Prize. Don't let his sacrifice be in vain: raise awareness of his plight and that of other whistleblowers and political prisoners like Jeremy Hammond. Perhaps one day, if that just world ever arrives, Bradley Manning and those brave souls like him may breathe free air.
Written by Simon Wood