By Alexander Reed Kelly
Thanks to last week’s Truthdigger of the Week, journalist Alexa O’Brien, the public has access to a complete rushed transcript of the statement Pfc. Bradley Manning made to a federal judge Thursday when he pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining state secrets that he subsequently passed to WikiLeaks as well as pleading not guilty to “aiding the enemy.”
Manning’s statement consists of facts describing his military training, the nature of his work as an intelligence analyst, his discovery of WikiLeaks and the “unauthorized storage and disclosure[s]” of a host of sensitive documents that he made over time. It stands as one of the few occasions the public has heard from Manning since his arrest in May 2010.
Manning was recognized for his aptitude as an intelligence analyst. Thus, he had access to troves of sensitive information. It was his job to pore over this data, much of which would be seen by only a handful of people. Apart perhaps from a few of his fellow analysts, the view of U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan that he came to possess was highly detailed and more complete than virtually any other soldier’s, including likely many of his superiors. Seen all at once, he had a bird’s eye view of the wars, and what he saw “disturbed” him.
In his statement he describes being snowed in at his aunt’s house during a blizzard while on leave in Maryland in late January 2010. It was there that he first deliberated over what to do with copies of records he had made of so-called SigActs (reports of events the military believed were worth relating during the course of war).
“I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession,” Manning said. “For me, the SigActs represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.”
Manning said he believed that if the public had access to those records, they would “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as … it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” He “believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.”
Upon resolving to publish the documents, he attempted to contact mainstream newspapers. He spoke briefly with a reporter at The Washington Post, but she didn’t seem to take him seriously. The New York Times ignored him outright, never responding to a voice mail that included his Skype phone number and personal email address. Discouraged by the papers’ lack of interest, he contacted WikiLeaks, which he encountered during the course of reading about world events, which had become a “fascination” for him.
In his message to WikiLeaks, he included a simple note explaining the contents of the file:
“It’s already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information—perhaps 90 to 100 days to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect its source. This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”
In the weeks that followed, Manning provided WikiLeaks with more documents. They included State Department cables showing U.S. officials’ candid lack of interest in helping Iceland during its financial crisis; footage of killings of Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter (which came to be known as the “Collateral Murder” video); and other examples of his government’s lack of concern for human life. All of it “upset” him, he said, and all of it went to WikiLeaks.
As the Iceland example makes clear, Manning’s interest was not limited to America’s wrongdoing in war. “The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations,” Manning told the judge this week. “I also began to think the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that [sic] didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.
“The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public,” he continued. “I once read a [sic] and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”
Manning’s statement was written to be heard by a justice system that is bent on making an example out of him. He is compelled to express himself in a way that keeps him in the best of possible graces with the courts and the American public. Even so, there are moments, such as above, when the rigidity he relies upon in reporting the facts of his actions dissolves away, and he speaks in the naked and young language of hopes and ideals. Military training did not drill Manning’s identity and humane values out of him. Those values could cost him his life, if the trial that is due to begin in June results in a sentence of life in prison or even death.
For being incorrigibly himself and allowing his conscience to be his guide, we honor Bradley Manning once again as our Truthdigger of the Week. Read his statement here.
“I believe[d] that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States,” Manning said.