This is a humble working attempt to place Pfc. Manning in context with other Americans who have been faced with similar ethical lapses. Help from other FDLers to better tell this story would be greatly appreciated. If anyone or any group are interested, and would enjoy moving it forward, I think their efforts would do more justice to Pfc. Manning, Lt. Thompson, and the innocent lives they tried to save.
Among other atrocities, Pfc. Manning is accused of leaking video and audio of these:
The attacks received worldwide coverage following the release of 39 minutes of classified cockpit gunsight footage in 2010. Reuters had unsuccessfully requested the footage under the Freedom of Information Act in 2007. The footage was acquired from an undisclosed source in 2009 by the Internet leak website WikiLeaks, which released the footage on April 5, 2010, under the name Collateral Murder. Recorded from the gunsight Target Acquisition and Designation System of one of the attacking helicopters, the video shows the three incidents and the radio chatter between the aircrews and ground units involved. An anonymous US military official confirmed the authenticity of the footage.
Granai massacre, refers to the killing of approximately 86 to 147 Afghan civilians, most women and children, by the United States Armed Forces on May 4, 2009, in the village of Granai (sometimes spelled Garani or Gerani) in Farah Province, south of Herat, Afghanistan. The US military admitted significant errors were made in carrying out the airstrikes, stating “the inability to discern the presence of civilians and avoid and/or minimize accompanying collateral damage resulted in the unintended consequence of civilian casualties”.
The Australian has said that the airstrike resulted in “one of the highest civilian death tolls from Western military action since foreign forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001”. The Afghan government have said that around 140 civilians were killed, of which 93 were children and only 22 were adult males. Afghanistan’s top rights body has said 97 civilians were killed, most of them children. Other estimates range from 86 to 145 civilians killed. An earlier probe by the US military had said that 20–30 civilians were killed along with 60–65 insurgents. A partially released American inquiry stated “no one will ever be able conclusively to determine the number of civilian casualties that occurred”.
Prior to coming to FDL, I had always assumed that, similar to the Wounded Knee Massacre (1890), there were no “heroes” at My Lai. I learned about Lt. Thomson from one of the luminaries of this community, In Memoriam Mary Beth Perdue.
Hugh Clowers Thompson, Jr. (April 15, 1943 – January 6, 2006) was a United States Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He is best known for his role in stopping the My Lai Massacre, in which a group of US Army soldiers tortured and killed several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mutilating their bodies after they had been murdered. Although initially ill-treated in some quarters for their intervention, Thompson and his crew, Glenn Andreotta and Lawrence Colburn, were recognized and decorated many years later for their heroism at My Lai. Andreotta had died in combat three weeks after the massacre, and so was honored posthumously.
In the early morning of March 16, 1968, Thompson’s OH-23 encountered no enemy fire over My Lai 4. Spotting two possible Viet Cong suspects, he forced the Vietnamese men to surrender and flew them off for a tactical interrogation. Thompson also marked the location of several wounded Vietnamese with green smoke, a signal that they needed help.
Returning to the My Lai area at around 0900 after refueling, he noticed that the people he had marked were now dead. Out in a paddy field beside a dike 200 metres (660 ft) south of the village, he marked the location of a wounded young Vietnamese woman. Thompson and his crew watched from a low hover as Captain Ernest Medina (commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment) came up to the woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.
Thompson then flew over an irrigation ditch filled with dozens of bodies. Shocked at the sight, he radioed his accompanying gunships, knowing his transmission would be monitored by many on the radio net: “It looks to me like there’s an awful lot of unnecessary killing going on down there. Something ain’t right about this. There’s bodies everywhere. There’s a ditch full of bodies that we saw. There’s something wrong here.”
Movement from the ditch indicated to Thompson that there were still people alive in there. Thompson landed his helicopter and dismounted. David Mitchell, a sergeant and squad leader in 1st Platoon, C Company, walked over to him. When asked by Thompson whether any help could be provided to the people in the ditch, the sergeant replied that the only way to help them was to put them out of their misery. Second Lieutenant William Calley (commanding officer of the 1st Platoon, C Company) then came up, and the two had the following conversation:
Thompson: What’s going on here, Lieutenant?
Calley: This is my business.
Thompson: What is this? Who are these people?
Calley: Just following orders.
Thompson: Orders? Whose orders?
Calley: Just following…
Thompson: But, these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir.
Calley: Look Thompson, this is my show. I’m in charge here. It ain’t your concern.
Thompson: Yeah, great job.
Calley: You better get back in that chopper and mind your own business.
Thompson: You ain’t heard the last of this!
Thompson took off again, and Andreotta reported that Mitchell was now executing the people in the ditch. Furious, Thompson flew over the northeast corner of the village and spotted a group of about ten civilians, including children, running toward a homemade bomb shelter. Pursuing them were soldiers from the 2nd Platoon, C Company. Realizing that the soldiers intended to murder the Vietnamese, Thompson landed his aircraft between them and the villagers. Thompson turned to Colburn and Andreotta and told them that if the Americans began shooting at the villagers or him, they should fire their M60 machine guns at the Americans: “Y’all cover me! If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!” He then dismounted to confront the 2nd Platoon’s leader, Stephen Brooks. Thompson told him he wanted help getting the peasants out of the bunker:
Thompson: Hey listen, hold your fire. I’m going to try to get these people out of this bunker. Just hold your men here.
Brooks: Yeah, we can help you get ’em out of that bunker—with a hand grenade!
Thompson: Just hold your men here. I think I can do better than that.
Brooks declined to argue with him, even though as a commissioned officer he outranked Thompson.
After coaxing the 11 Vietnamese out of the bunker, Thompson persuaded the pilots of the two UH-1 Huey gunships (Dan Millians and Brian Livingstone) flying as his escort to evacuate them. While Thompson was returning to base to refuel, Andreotta spotted movement in an irrigation ditch filled with approximately 100 bodies. The helicopter again landed and the men dismounted to search for survivors. After wading through the remains of the dead and dying men, women and children, Andreotta extracted a live boy named Do Ba. Thompson flew the survivor to the ARVN hospital in Quang Ngai.
Upon returning to their base at about 1100, Thompson heatedly reported the massacre to his superiors. His allegations of civilian killings quickly reached Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker, the operation’s overall commander. Barker radioed his executive officer to find out from Captain Medina what was happening on the ground. Medina then gave the cease-fire order to Charlie Company to “knock off the killing”.
IMHO, messaging that links Pfc. Manning to Lt. Thompson helps get out the real story, the innocent victims of aggression, funded with U.S. tax dollars, that was inconsistent with any “military objective.” If in the process more Americans learn who Lt. Hugh Thompson, Jr. was, I think that would also be a benefit.