The US Press Failed Bradley Manning
In a military court at Fort Meade, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier being prosecuted for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, pled guilty to some elements of the charges he faces. He pled not guilty to stealing the information, “aiding the enemy,” “exceeding” authorized access on his computer or violating the Espionage Act. However, he pled guilty to possessing information, willfully communicating that information to an unauthorized person and that the acts were prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the military.
Manning read a voluntary statement for just over an hour that provided a background on why he decided to release certain information to WikiLeaks. What particularly stood out is how Manning highlighted the contents of the information, how it weighed on his conscience and drove him to conclude the information should be released to the public so they could debate what was happening, particularly in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there could be a debate on how the United States wars were being waged.
What came out was incredible—Manning had gone to US press outlets. Two organizations showed no interest in the war logs.
Manning spoke about the “facts regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the SIGACTS” or the incident reports in two databases on the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) that contained military reports on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He described what he believed to be the nature of the information. He was originally to deploy to the Wardak province in Afghanistan so he had been using the reports on Afghanistan for his work. He was reassigned to Baghdad in 2008 and he switched to referencing the incident reports on Iraq.
“I view the SIGACTS as historical data,” Manning stated. It is a “first look impression of a past event.” They show IED attacks, small arms fire engagement or engagement with hostile forces.
The reports are “not very sensitive.” The “events encapsulated involve enemy casualties” that are “publicly reported” by the Public Affairs Office of the military or reported by “embedded media pools.” They are like a daily journal or log that captures “what happened on an immediate day or time and they are constantly updated.”
Initially, Manning created copies that he did not intend to use for any purpose than backup. He later decided to release the information to the public because they were some of the “most significant documents of our time.”
He placed the information on a CD-RW into the cargo pocket of his Army Combat Uniform. He brought it to his living quarters and placed it on his laptop and later returned the CD-RW to a conference room. Saved on his computer, he put it on an SD card and planned to take copies of the war logs with him on mid-tour leave and decide what to do.
On January 23, 2010, he arrived at Reagan National Airport in Virginia and headed to the house of his aunt, Debra Van Alystyne, in Maryland. He visited Tyler Watkins in Boston and talked to him about how his relationship was going. He thought Watkins had become distant and “did not seem very excited about his return from Iraq.”
Manning asked Watkins hypothetically, “What would he do if he had documents the public needed access to?” Watkins seemed concerned. He did not quite understand. Manning “tried to be more specific” then decided that “rather than explain the dilemma” it was best to drop the conversation.
He returned to Maryland and spent the rest of his time in and around Washington, DC, as a blizzard was “bombarding” the Atlantic.He thought about what to do and was convinced that the United States was “ risking so much for people who felt so unwilling to cooperate with us” and it was “leading to hatred and frustration on both sides.” Manning was upset with counterinsurgency operations that consisted of the “capture and killing of human targets.”
Manning analyzed the data and felt it could spark a domestic debate “on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” He thought it might cause “society to reevaluate the need to engage in counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations that ignored the dynamic of people living in the environment every day.”
He called the Washington Post. A woman answered who seemed to not take him seriously, even though he suggested the information would be valuable to the American public. Then, he decided to contact the New York Times. Nobody answered the phone so he left a message explaining he had information that was “very important.” He left the Times his email and a Skype address but never received a reply.
Manning had tried to connect with someone at POLITICO. He considered going to POLITICO but the weather conditions hampered his travel. He ultimately decided to submit to WikiLeaks. He was not sure they would actually publish. He was concerned the American media might notice the war logs had been published. But, he decided this was the “best medium for publishing” and it was within his reach to provide the material to WikiLeaks.
He wrote a letter that he attached when he submitted the sets of war logs that explained the files contained “items of historical significance for two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan.” It said “items” were “significant activities (SIGACTS) happening in between” January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2009, and they had been “sanitized of any source identity information.” It urged the party receiving the files to “sit on this information 90-100 days to figure out how best to send and distribute such a large amount of data to a large audience.” Finally, the letter declared, “This is perhaps one of the most significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st Century asymmetric warfare.” (It mentioned he had tried to provide the war logs to the Washington Post.)
The information was submitted to WikiLeaks through the online submission system. He used the The Onion Router (TOR) network to hopefully protect himself and maintain anonymity while submitting them. After sending, he left the SD card on a camera in his aunt’s house in the event that he ever needed it again.
By the time January 2010 was over, the war logs had not been published by WikiLeaks, but he felt a sense of relief that they had the documents. It “allowed me to have clear conscience” on what he was seeing happen every day.
Manning did not know WikiLeaks had received the war logs until he provided a diplomatic cable, Reykjavik 13, from Iceland. It was on banking crisis Iceland was experiencing and how two European powers were being bullies. When that cable appeared on the WikiLeaks website, he now knew that WikiLeaks had the war logs.
Manning was arrested on May 28, 2010, before either sets of war logs were published. The Afghanistan War Logs were published on July 25, 2010. The Iraq War Logs were published on October 22, 2010.
Had the Times or Post obtained the logs and begun to examine them for publication, what would the organizations have done? Would they have notified the government they now possessed the documents? The Times communicated with the government when preparing to publish State Department cables.
All the war logs in both sets would not have been published online. WikiLeaks would not have had them so they could not have released the war logs when the Times or Post did not post them all for the public to read. It would have frustrated Bradley Manning.
Though he is on trial now and could very well end up spending the rest of his life in prison, his conscience is clean. He knows the documents were released in their entirety to start a debate on two major US wars waged in the past decade. He knows he gave the public the opportunity to see what he was seeing and, if they wanted to do so, they could question their government and challenge policies and operations.
In conclusion, the statements by Manning further show how the US media fail to report on major stories or refuse to do so because it will draw the ire of the US government. The New York Times did not publish its story on President George W. Bush’s use of warrantless wiretapping when it had the chance to have an impact and create debate before Bush was re-elected. The Washington Post and Times apparently knew of a secret Saudi drone base before President Barack Obama was re-elected. They agreed to not disclose the location, even though its existence and use could be a recipe for blowback.
What happened with Manning is not dissimilar. It fits into how the press has failed in its duty to be the Fourth Estate and check the power of government by informing Americans of what is being done in their name. It complements how the press repeated or went along with Bush Administration propaganda ten years ago on why the US needed to go to war in Iraq. And, it reaffirms why the world needs organizations like WikiLeaks for conscientious government employees around the world to turn to when they want something to be brought to the world’s attention.