The war on whistle-blowers
“There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people,” wrote the late historian Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the United States.” These words were included in a statement by Pfc. Bradley Manning, read by his defense attorney David Coombs, at a press conference following Manning’s sentencing to 35 years in military prison for releasing hundreds of thousands of documents to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks. The statement accompanies Manning’s request to President Barack Obama for a presidential pardon.
Across the Atlantic, David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained under Britain’s terrorism laws at London’s Heathrow Airport, his electronic equipment was confiscated, and he was interrogated and threatened with prison.
Both events have heightened the already intense level of scrutiny on the expanding, seemingly unchecked reach of the U.S. government. Miranda is rattled, but free. Manning will soon head, shackled, to begin serving his sentence. NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden remains in temporary political asylum somewhere in Russia, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continues his residence in exile, not far from Heathrow, in the cramped Ecuadorean Embassy in London. What is remarkable is that this patchwork of individuals has set this brave, new world of global war and surveillance reeling.
“It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing,” Manning wrote in the statement read by Coombs. “Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.”
As he said at the opening of his court-martial, Manning released the confidential material to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy.” The most graphic example was his release of the Apache attack helicopter video, where at least a dozen civilians were killed. The video includes radio transmissions between the soldiers, joking about the violence they were committing.
While the video, released by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder,” is graphic, the additional releases by Manning shed a bright light on the classified wars being waged by the U.S. government, far from public view. The War Diaries ( http://wardiary.wikileaks.org) include hundreds of thousands of field reports from both Afghanistan and Iraq. In cold military jargon, the classified documents reveal the scale of the brutality of war, the routine violence and the daily killing of civilians.
Coombs continued with Manning’s statement: “In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.”
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are the two journalists who have collaborated on the Snowden leaks from the outset. Last weekend, David Miranda, a citizen of Brazil, was detained by British authorities for nine hours under Schedule 7 of the U.K. Terrorism Act of 2000.
Lord Charles Falconer, who helped introduce the law into the British House of Lords, says Miranda’s detention was an abuse of the law. “Publication in the Guardian is not instigating terrorism,” Falconer wrote in that paper. “The state may wish that journalists would not publish sensitive material, but it is up to journalists, not the state, to decide where to draw the line.” While Miranda is not a journalist, he has long assisted his partner Greenwald in his work, and the authorities in Britain, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who reportedly had advance knowledge of Miranda’s detention, knew full well that he was no terrorist.
The violation of Miranda’s rights has created a political firestorm in Britain, whose equivalent to the National Security Agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, has come under equal scrutiny for widespread surveillance.
David Coombs finished reading Manning’s statement at the post-sentencing press conference: “When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.” Addressing President Obama, Manning wrote: “If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”
The morning after his sentencing, Manning issued a statement that read, in part, “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour. Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.