Bradley Manning’s Court Testimony—Leaked
When Army Pfc. Bradley Manning spoke before a military judge at length for only the second time ever last month, the media gallery next to the Fort Meade, Maryland, courtroom was arguably the most crowded it has been since the 25-year-old army private was arraigned one year earlier. Clearly, I was not the only one in attendance that morning weighing whether or not it was worth risking my career, my reputation, and a possible military reprimand by recording the soldier’s testimony: this morning, audio of his guilty plea was leaked to the web by an anonymous source.
The significance of Pfc. Manning’s statement doesn’t begin and end with what he said last month. Yes, the army-intelligence officer admitted for the first time ever during the roughly hour-long reading that he did, in fact, cause the biggest intelligence leak in the US history. And, yes, as many assumed, he did supply the whistleblower website WikiLeaks with a trove of sensitive documents that he thought would embarrass the very country he swore to protect. His words weren’t the only ones that mattered, though.
By finally admitting to sharing war logs, State Department cables, and hundreds of thousands of protected files, Pfc. Manning was no longer the “accused” WikiLeaks source or the “alleged supplier” of some of the rawest evidence of American misdeeds in the Iraq and Afghan wars. He owned up. Yes, he did it, and a few dozen members of the press were hearing with their own ears why. Those members of the press have painstakingly referred to Pfc. Manning as, largely, anything but the proven WikiLeaks source since his military detainment began over 1,000 days ago. Now, however, he can be properly credited. And he should be.
Pfc. Manning said he leaked video footage of Iraqi civilians being murdered by Americans to spark debate. And sharing State Department cables, he said, was to show the world what the United States was really doing abroad. It was the first time I ever heard his voice, and it was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Bradley Manning Pleaded Guilty Yesterday: ‘I Did It’
After a blizzard blanketed the mid-Atlantic in early 2010, a 22-year-old soldier home on leave in Potomac, Maryland, braved the storm in hopes of locating an Internet connection that, unlike the one at his aunt’s house where he was staying, hadn’t been severed by nearly two feet of snow.
When Private first class Bradley Manning made it to a Barnes & Noble bookstore outside of Washington, D.C., he unpacked his laptop, logged-on to the complimentary Starbucks Wi-Fi and searched for some files he had burned onto a disc back in Kuwait before Christmas. It was in that shop, surrounded by comic books and minimum-wage-earning baristas, that the slight and bespectacled soldier uploaded classified and unclassified military files to the website WikiLeaks, an action that remains the target of both a CIA probe and a grand jury investigation three years later—and that yesterday landed Manning in court in Fort Meade, Maryland, where he pleaded guilty to ten criminal charges and will now likely serve twenty years in prison. “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information,” Manning said yesterday in court, which I attended, “this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
The government’s case—and public opinion about the young soldier’s act—has hinged on the assertion that Manning’s leak put the United States in danger by making sensitive military information public. The files leaked by Manning include the now-infamous “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq, in which US soldiers mistake a group of journalists and civilians for insurgents and then kill them; US diplomatic cables about the collapse of three major financial institutions in Iceland; files on detainees in Guantanamo; and portions of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. “They capture what happens [on] a particular day in time,” Manning said about the war logs.
Manning was captured by American officials in May 2010—after he’d gone back to Kuwait to continue his service in an intelligence center—when the ex-hacker turned goody-two-shoes Adrian Lamo, who had been in communication about the files with Manning via email, tipped off the FBI. Manning was then accused of an onslaught of charges related to allegations that he supplied material to WikiLeaks. Since then, Pfc. Manning has been imprisoned without trial for over 1,000 days. Only during Thursday’s testimony, though, did he own up to those crimes and explain to the world with his own words why he willingly released materials that have changed history—if not in the way Manning had originally intended.
When he finally finished reading the 35-page statement prepared for the court Thursday afternoon, a handful of supporters and members of the press seated before a closed-circuit stream of the testimony across the Army base erupted in applause. The only other time they ever heard the soldier speak at length was this December when he testified to the conditions he endured while jailed in a military brig after first being detained. His treatment there was so egregious that the presiding judge, Col. Denise Lind, agreed to take four months off of any eventual sentence handed down.
But for voluntarily admitting his crimes during a pretrial hearing on Thursday nearly three years after the fact, Pfc. Manning stands to face upwards of 20 years in prison. After his case is formally court-martialed beginning in June, though, he could be sent away for life. Because he gave classified information to WikiLeaks and, thus, the world, the government says he sent that intelligence into the ether and helped aid anti-American terrorists. The government could legally execute the soldier, now 25, if they convict him on that charge.
The Torture of Bradley Manning
Drawing by Clark Stoekley via Flickr.
After more than 900 days of detainment in United States military jails for allegedly disclosing state secrets, the haunting imprisonment of accused WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning was discussed in court for the first time at the latest round of pretrial motion hearings that began on Nov. 27 in Fort Meade, MD. Below is an account of those court proceedings. The case will continue intermittently into 2013.
If there’s a bad time to discuss holiday shopping, it’s while waiting for someone to describe being tortured.
I was soaking wet and still half asleep when our driver turned to the back seat of the press shuttle and said something so totally irrelevant and ill-timed that I knew right then and there that she was either innocently naïve or politely retarded.
“Can you believe it,” she said, “Christmas is already less than a month away.”
Festive fucking cheer is not particularly on the mind, at least not on this Tuesday morning at Fort Meade, Maryland. The sprawling 6.6-square mile United States Army base just outside of Washington, DC is the venue for the pretrial motion hearings in the case against Private First Class Bradley Manning. By the time the trial is over, a soldier considered a hero by some could be sentenced to life in prison. I was likely not the only one uninterested in having a holly jolly ol’ time, but that didn’t do anything to change the fact that our driver had just adjusted the FM dial to pick up “Santa Baby.”
When only 22 years old, Pfc. Manning was arrested at his barrack in Baghdad and dragged off to Kuwait, then to perhaps the worst locale yet— Quantico, Virginia—for the longest stretch of the two-and-a-half years of imprisonment that’s been condemned by the United Nations and Nobel laureates as tantamount to torture. Pfc. Manning won’t be court-martialed by a military judge until next March, and at that point he’ll likely have spent over 1,000 days—ten percent of his life—in solitary confinement.
This, of course, is because the US says Manning took 250,000 diplomatic embassy cables and a trove of sensitive military documents and sent them to the website WikiLeaks. Among the documents Pfc. Manning allegedly leaked are the Afghan War Diaries, the Iraq War Logs, secret diplomatic communications, and a video of US soldiers firing at Iraqi civilians and journalists from the air in a clip that was dubbed “Collateral Murder.”
“This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare,” Pfc. Manning is alleged to have written of the footage. Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder currently sought for extradition from the UK to Sweden, credits those documents and particularly the video with ending a war that left over 4,400 Americans dead and countless Iraqis murdered.
“It was WikiLeaks’ revelations—not the actions of President Obama—that forced the US administration out of the Iraq War,” Assange wrote last month. “By exposing the killing of Iraqi children, WikiLeaks directly motivated the Iraqi government to strip the US military of legal immunity, which in turn forced the US withdrawal.”