2 August 2010. A World to Win News Service. Criminals are invading a home. They're killing people who resist them and anyone who gets in their way, even children,. This goes on for a long time. A young man who's supposed to be part of the gang decides this is wrong and tries to tell the world to stop them. Doesn't this make him a hero? Not if you ask the other thugs and their apologists.
That hero is Pfc Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army technician first arrested in Iraq last May on charges of leaking a military video showing American soldiers committing murder there. Now he is suspected of being the source for internal U.S. military reports on the war in Afghanistan released through the WikiLeaks organization in July.
Manning has been moved to solitary confinement in a U.S. naval base in Virginia. WikiLeaks report that he was denied contact with a civilian lawyer they contacted. According to a U.S. Army press release, he faces "lengthy continued pretrial confinement given the complexity of the charges and ongoing investigation." Meanwhile, the FBI is trying to track down everyone else who might be involved.
Obama's chief thug, armed forces head Admiral Mike Mullen, said that those responsible for these leaks – meaning Manning, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and unnamed others – have "blood on [their] hands".
This totally upside-down view of the facts and the question of right and wrong is matched by the possible "espionage" charges the U.S. government is considering in this case, according to CNN. "Espionage" usually refers to clandestine activities meant to hand over information to a foreign power. In this case, the information was made public and the recipient was the people of the U.S. and the world.
The video Manning was first arrested for leaking was shot through the gun-sights of an Apache attack helicopter in 2007. It shows the aircraft machine guns cutting down a Reuters news service photographer and his assistant and other people casually walking down the street in a Baghdad suburb. Several minutes later, a van pulls up, and men get out to rescue a severely wounded man who is trying to crawl onto the sidewalk. Children are visible through the window. The helicopter flies over the van, opening fire again and again on each pass until the crew is satisfied that everyone seems dead.
The audio track records the crew's eagerness to kill Iraqis, and their laughter and mutual congratulations at the sight of at least 18 bodies ("Good shooting!"). When ground troops report over the radio they have found two seriously wounded children in the wrecked van, one of the crewmen sneers, "It's their fault for bringing children into a war zone." American medics are about to take the children for treatment when an officer orders that they be abandoned.
What made this video all the more problematic for the U.S. government was that it had long been in the possession of the U.S. military, which had ruled that its men had been doing what they were supposed to do. Two former members of the unit involved in this crime wrote an open letter of apology to the Iraqi people describing the murder of civilians as daily policy. Nabil Noor-Eldeen, whose brother Namir was killed in this attack, praised Manning. "Justice was what this U.S. soldier did by uncovering this crime against humanity." (AWTWNS 26 May 2010)
But of course that wasn't how the government behind these murders saw it. Not satisfied with the information given by a former computer hacker who turned Manning in, they tried to bully other people into turning informers, infiltrate WikiLinks and locate its leader Assange. (Washington Post, 1 August 2010)
Manning, who comes from a military family, was able to access Pentagon databases available to military units in the war zones. Allegedly he told the hacker that he had come across documents that "contained incredible things, awful things… that belonged in the public domain and not on some secret server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C."
These "awful things" kept coming out even after his arrest. WikiLeaks gave a set of about 75,000 internal reports written by U.S. officers in Afghanistan to three news organizations, The Guardian in the U.K., Der Spiegel magazine in Germany and The New York Times. Each published their own stories based on this information in late July. All these reports are available at wikileaks.org. WikiLeaks says it has more than 15,000 related documents it hasn't released yet.
What these leaked reports show – and don't show
While some of these reports are labelled "secret", that is actually the lowest level of classification. Others were not classified at all. Undoubtedly their contents will become much clearer after they are carefully examined and analysed by people worldwide. For now, we have to rely on the news outlets that assigned many journalists and experts to digest them over weeks.
The reports acknowledge 144 cases where civilians were killed, often for no reason other than carelessness contempt for Afghans and always based on the premise that avoiding any possible danger to American soldiers' lives justifies whole dead families. The military never publicly admitted most of them. They also give a picture of the strategic role of a U.S. Special Forces death squad (Task Force 373) and its calculation that civilian deaths don't count in the pursuit of assassinating its "targets". But neither the authors of the reports themselves nor the media that were initially given them have tried to add it all up. WikiLeaks' Assange put it very simply to BBC in a way that others have not: "20,000 lives that have been lost in Afghanistan [are] documented and exposed by our material."
The very fact that makes the crimes the reports describe so damning – that they were written by American officers on the ground – also means that much of the truth is left out. Several analysts have compared the reports on specific incidents with the news articles written by journalists who investigated them at the time. Eric Michael Johnson, a scientist and journalist who wrote an article on Huffingtonpost. com (27 July 2010), points out several cases where the reports amount to a cover-up of the number of civilians killed and how they died.
One of the most notorious took place in September 2009, when Nato bombed a crowd of people surrounding two fuel tankers stuck in a riverbed in the northern province of Kunduz. The military report says that the air strike was called in after "ensuring that no civilians were in the vicinity" and that all those who died were "enemy insurgents". Civilian journalists who went to the scene – which the military had declared too "inaccessible" to investigate – concluded that whoever had hijacked these trucks was gone and that all of the 30-70 people who died were civilians.
Johnson also did a painstaking comparison of the way the Guardian and The New York Times interpreted the raw material in these reports. He concludes that while the NYT stands out for the little attention paid to the question of civilian deaths, which he suggests is related to the centrality of this war for the U.S. as compared to the UK, both media underreport this issue twice over, once by undervaluing Afghan lives and again by confining themselves to the self-serving, selective content of the reports and not examining all the facts available.
Because their implicit starting point is whether or not this war is "winnable", implicitly looking at it from the point of view of the interests of their imperialist countries, the mainstream media have emphasised two things in their analysis.
One is the contempt American officers express for the Karzai government and its institutions. Here again, however, they leave out something essential in their summaries and analysis, despite a memo posted on an NYT blog site: "The general view of Afghans is that the current government is worse than the Taliban," as one officer reported. This goes to the heart of the matter. The U.S. picked up Karzai out of exile and put him into office, and they are just about all that keeps him there.
This is what a young Afghan woman who hates the Taliban told a Washington Post reporter at a spontaneous protest in Kabul 1 August, sparked when a car driven by American mercenaries killed four people, but aimed at the occupation in general: the U.S. is "guardian and master of the ruling Mafia in Afghanistan. " Another man said, "Many times Nato troops and their cars have killed our innocent people. They never care whether we are dogs or Afghans."
We can't expect an American officer to tell his superiors that the U.S. does far more harm than the Taliban. But even taking him at his word, if life today under the U.S. occupation is "worse than the Taliban", what does that say about this war?
The other point the media have chosen to underline in these reports is the degree to which the U.S.-installed government and its officials are connected to "insurgents" , and especially the links between these "insurgents" and Pakistan.
Here what's left out is that Washington, too, is seeking to cut a deal with the Taliban and others now fighting against the occupation. The U.S. relationship with the Pakistan military and ruling class is very complex, and it is not simple even with Karzai. But, after all, the U.S. backed the Islamisation of the Pakistani military and worked through Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence to bring the Taliban to power in the '90s. According to serious journalistic accounts, the U.S. is now working through both Karzai and the ISI to try to divide its opponents and bring at least some of the fundamentalists fighting the occupation into a coalition government – as long as Afghanistan remains under American domination. Why else, even after these leaks appeared, did the UN Security Council drop international travel restrictions and asset freezes against 10 people listed as Taliban members and 14 "linked" to Al-Qaeda?
The Obama government's persecution of Pfc. Manning and its threats against WikiLeaks serves very clear and conscious purposes. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, claimed in Washington: "The battlefield consequences are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world." (Guardian, 30 July 2010) On one level, he was saying something obvious: that even though these reports were written by his own armed forces, making the truth public may encourage anti-war sentiments. (Although they didn't dissuade the U.S. Congress from renewing funding for Obama's war.)
But on another, not very subtle level, he was expressing a deeper concern: The U.S., like any occupying power and all imperialist dominators, cannot rule without local collaborators from the top to the bottom of society. If these people – and he doesn't mean just local informers but the highest level authorities – decide they can't entrust their careers to the U.S., then the occupiers are in trouble. What most threatens the occupation is not the possible naming of informers – WikiLeaks say that they cut out many names and other details, and that many that remain are public knowledge or outdated – but that if Nato seems to be losing the war, rats may desert the sinking ship. That's what Gates means when he worries about America's "reputation" .
If the reports don't draw the bigger picture – and how could they? – the way the U.S. government has reacted and dealt with this matter reveals even more about their policies, goals and nature than the leaks themselves.
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