Please Don’t Shoot The Messenger
10 August, 2010
Toronto: I do not know Private First Class Bradley Manning, so I have no idea what motivated him to join the U.S. military in the first place. His youth, perhaps. Or maybe the sense of adventure promoted in the military marketing material. His reported sense of isolation may also have had something to I do with his enlisting. I suspect, however, that Superman’s “Truth, Justice and the American Way” also played a role.
Deep within each of us, I think we all want to wear that red cape and be a hero. We all want to do something selfless and brave. Ironically, it may be Bradley’s final act as a member of the military that will prove to be his most courageous.
Charged with leaking the video of an Apache helicopter attack in which 11 Iraqis died and 2 children were gravely injured, Bradley Manning faces charges that would put him behind bars for five decades. It is critical, then, that people within the United States and around the world weigh the supposed crime of whistle-blowing against the crime of the wars themselves. Then decide who really deserves to be punished.
The true reasons for the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with Weapons of Mass Destruction or Iraq’s (nonexistent) support of Al Qaida, have been painfully obvious for years now. Unbelievably, however, there are many U.S. citizens who continue to believe the lies they were told. Their government would not, could not ever lie to them. Right? Americans, their allies and, most importantly, the young men and women who would put their lives at risk in Baghdad and Sadr City and elsewhere, were told that the invasion of Iraq would bring increased security to the United States. That it would bring democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq.
When he enlisted, I suspect that Bradley shared those sentiments. His picture and smile evidence gentleness and trust. If Bradley Manning did leak anything, which we do not yet know, he certainly did not enlist and go overseas to do so. More likely, what he saw while he was there changed who and what he trusted. It did not, however, change what he believed in – which was still truth and justice.
As the war progressed, millions of Americans around the country continued to believe that their government would never lie to them. When images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib began to emerge, their faith may have been tested. When dead soldiers’ caskets were hidden in the dark of night, when statistics and stories about civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were distorted, maybe some people began to question things. In Canada, we have our own shame knowing that detainees taken into custody by our military were tortured when handed back to the Afghanis. Our government is still trying to bury the documents that prove it, ruin the lives of those who revealed it, and pretend that it never happened.
In their living rooms in Denver or Miami or Providence, Americans who wanted to could still ignore the facts about the war in Iraq. They could still watch their favourite television shows, go for dinner, love their families, walk their dogs, and believe that everything was right with the world.
In Bradley’s job, he didn’t have that luxury. Every day, he was faced with reports, photographs, videos and statistics that reflected the horror of Iraq and made the reality tangible and heartbreaking.
A very credible site (www.iraqbodycount.org) states that, by their most conservative estimate, as of this afternoon, 97,172 civilian Iraqis have been killed by violence since the start of this war.
And if you go to alternative news source www.informationclearinghouse.info, estimates of total Iraqi deaths go as high as 1,366,350.
Millions more have been orphaned, injured or displaced. Homes and businesses have been destroyed, spirits have been broken and hatred has been bred in many a bone. And, as of this afternoon, 4,731 American men and women have returned home to the people who love them in boxes and in bits. And so, so many others have come home damaged in body and spirit.
A report released last week confirms, statistically, what tens of thousands of U.S. military families, and families in Iraq and Afghanistan already know only too well. People do not kill and destroy others without killing and destroying part of themselves. Violence, domestic abuse, criminal behaviour, drug use and suicide amongst active duty soldiers, reservists and veterans has sky-rocketed. In fact, suicides and high risk behaviour deaths killed more U.S. soldiers in the past year than did combat in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (www.army.mil/-news/2010/07/28/42934-army-health-promotion-risk-reduction-and-suicide-prevention-report/index.html)
In the video that Bradley is accused of leaking, when it becomes clear that innocent children have been injured in the rescue van, the soldiers in the Apache helicopter are taken aback for a brief moment. Then one says “Well, it’s their fault for taking their kids into a battle.” As pointed out by Ethan McCord, who pulled 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his five-year-old sister Doaha out of the van, “Well in all actuality, we brought the battle to [their] kids.” And their father who had simply been driving his children to school when he stopped to help, was killed.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no front line. The fighting and bombing and killing take place in these peoples’ villages and on their streets, in their homes and gardens and, sometimes, in their hospitals and schools. The surge that is currently underway in Afghanistan for Kandahar City will doubtlessly bring with it many thousands of innocent Afghani casualties, killed, as well, where they live and work and used to feel safe. In a perfect world, Bradley’s story would lead to a global outcry that would end that campaign now.
It has been reported that Bradley went to his supervisors on a number of occasions with concerns he had with what he was reading and seeing. He was deeply concerned about injustices being perpetrated and suffering ignored. Apparently, his concerns were dismissed, his sympathy mocked, and his choices narrowed. Ethan McCord has told his own story of how he was berated for helping the gravely injured children in the van, and then mocked and belittled afterwards.
On a daily basis, the U.S. government and military suppress information to protect themselves and their reputations. Much of the mainstream media in the U.S. performs a similar disservice to the American people.
Bradley Manning is not a filmmaker. He did not create the video. He was not in the helicopter; he did not film the action. He did not edit the visual or the audio. He didn’t take anything out or put anything in. Bradley Manning merely stands accused of making it possible for the world to watch this video.
No one knows if Bradley Manning released that video. But if he did, then he did it with a total disregard for his own safety and freedom, perhaps because he felt it was important that people in the U.S. and around the world see this pure, unadulterated slice of the war. I think that if he did release it, he did it because he understood the profound truth that the video showed — not only the brutality, cruelty and inhumanity of the war, but also the dehumanization of everyone involved, including the soldiers.
When you watch the video of the Apache attack, when you see the men on the street blown to pieces, when you watch the survivor, a Reuters photographer, unarmed and horribly injured, desperately trying to crawl to safety, when you see the van stop to help and watch its passengers mown down along with the struggling survivor, when you hear the video-game banter of the soldiers … I hope that you, too, will understand that what is being sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan is not only lives but also compassion, dignity, justice, hope and the potential for meaningful peace.
Releasing this video was an attempt to make all of us opens our eyes. It was one man’s simple offering of truth. Over a hundred years ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton said “Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.”
If he released that video, Bradley Manning should not be standing alone. He deserves to be supported, defended and freed.