Tuesday, October 12, 2010

San Diego Activists Turn Out to Support Bradley Manning

Gay Army Private Accused of Leaking Afghan War Papers, Iraq Attack Video


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Group shots of the September 19 rally (2), Bradley Manning (stock photo), Chuck Wynette, Marjorie Cohn, Adrienne Bocelli, Justin Caulker

On July 12, 2007 a U.S. Army helicopter was flying a routine patrol over New Baghdad, Iraq when its crew members spotted two employees of the Reuters news agency — a photographer and his driver — on the ground. Possibly mistaking the long telephoto lens on the photographer’s camera for a weapon, the helicopter crew radioed to base and requested “permission to engage” — military-speak for “fire” — on the two Reuters staffers and several other Iraqi civilians in the area. The guns from the copter not only mowed down the photographers and the other civilians on the scene, they also opened up on a black minivan that drove up to pick up the bodies and any survivors. Two children in the van were orphaned, and when U.S. ground forces arrived one soldier requested permission to take them to a U.S. Army hospital for treatment. But his superiors refused and instead insisted that he take them to an Iraqi hospital — meaning an unnecessary delay and inferior treatment for their wounds.

All this was recorded in a 17-minute video that was posted in April 2010 by the aggressive independent Web site WikiLeaks, an Australian operation headed by Julian Assange, which gave the post the provocative headline, “Collateral Murder.” WikiLeaks had also published 90,000 pages of documents about the U.S. war on Afghanistan, many of them bolstering already known information about U.S. forces killing civilians in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan (a country that’s supposedly our ally) as well as corruption within the Afghan government. In late May the U.S. Army arrested private first class Bradley Manning and charged him with being the leaker who made all this information available to Assange’s Web site. He’s currently imprisoned in the brig at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia — and on September 19, demonstrations were held in San Diego and 19 other U.S. cities demanding his immediate release.

“If the allegations are untrue, we call on the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately,” said an open letter calling for the San Diego protest and signed by at least 12 local progressive organizations, including Zenger’s Newsmagazine. “If the allegations are true, we also call upon the U.S. Department of Defense to release Mr. Manning immediately. The leaked video … clearly shows that official statements … were blatantly false. The leaker of this video blew the whistle on two crimes: the murder of civilians and an official cover-up. Exposing these crimes was a moral and legal obligation and a service to the international community. The leaker deserves our respect and thanks — not prosecution.”

Michael Anderson, who helped organize the rally on behalf of at least two of the sponsoring organizations, Activist San Diego and the San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME), kicked off the event by reading the letter and MC’d it throughout. The rally took place on Sunday afternoon, September 19, in front of the Horton Plaza shopping mall at Fourth and Broadway downtown. Speakers — most of them using a bullhorn since the P.A. system malfunctioned early on — delivered impassioned pleas not only for Manning but urging increased resistance to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lorraine Wrightsman of the Bradley Manning Support Network said her group has raised over $50,000 for Manning’s legal defense and boasted that “due to sites like WikiLeaks, transparency is coming” — that government can no longer keep anti-civilian attacks like the one documented in “Collateral Murder” secret.

“There’s a misconception about the oath soldiers take,” said Chuck Wynette of Viet Nam Veterans Against War (VVAW). “You don’t swear to obey megalomaniacs in the oil business, crazies in the State Department or mercenary organizations. You swear to uphold the Constitution, not the President or defense contractors” — ironically sounding similar to Right-wing servicemembers who, according to a recent article in Mother Jones magazine, may be organizing resistance to President Obama on the basis that his administration is violating the Constitution. Anticipating the arguments of law professor Marjorie Cohn, who spoke later in the event, Wynette pointed out that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, treaties signed by the U.S. President and ratified by the Senate become the supreme law of the land, just like the Constitution itself. “After World War II, we not only signed but wrote treaties about warfare,” Wynette said — treaties we’ve routinely violated in the Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he argued.

Cohn, announced as the event’s keynote speaker, took the platform just after Wynette and compared Manning to Daniel Ellsberg, the former Pentagon historian and data analyst who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a secret history the Defense Department compiled on how the U.S. got involved in Viet Nam, in 1971. She also described the “Collateral Murder” video and listed the acts it shows that constitute war crimes. “The video shows U.S. forces opening fire from a helicopter and killing 12 Iraqi civilians,” Cohn said. “One witness told [progressive journalist] Amy Goodman that it flew into an area without arms or insurgents, destroyed the area and killed all the people.” She also cited journalist Rick Pawley as her source for the allegation that the man in the video who’s run over by a tank was still alive until it struck and crushed him.

According to Cohn, “Article VI of the Geneva Conventions say soldiers should differentiate between civilian and military forces. The attack violated the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians who posed no threat.” The soldiers committed a second war crime, Cohn said, “when they shot potential rescuers in the van; and when the wounded man was run over by a tank and split in two, that was a third violation.” She cited one U.S. servicemember as saying that attacks like the one shown in “Collateral Murder” were quite common in Iraq, and the only thing different about this one was that the victims included two reporters and the video footage was ultimately leaked and made available to the public.

“Targeting civilians makes us less safe, and makes our troops less safe, due to retaliation,” Cohn said. “After citing both President Obama and U.S. Marine Col. David Logan as saying that the 90,000 pages in the so-called “Afghan War Diaries” contained no new information and didn’t lead to the Taliban harming any American servicemembers or Afghan civilians, she said, “The charges against Bradley Manning end with the language, ‘Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.’ On the contrary, if he did what he’s accused of, he should be honored as a hero for exposing war crimes and ultimately helping end this war.”

“A lot of Democrats and Republicans have said the source of the leaks has blood on their hands,” said Adrienne Bocelli of SAME and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), another organization on the demonstration’s list of sponsors. “The real people with blood on their hands are the racist administrations and Congressmembers who wage these wars. Martin Luther King said the U.S. government was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, and it’s still true. The real war criminals are the ones who have run illegal wars and sanctions against the Iraqi and Afghan people for 30 years. These operations have been for war profits and expanding the U.S. empire. They don’t benefit the American people.” Bocelli pointed out that until September 11, 2001 “the U.S. was … allied with the Taliban and had created al-Qaeda” [as part of the U.S.-funded resistance against the Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1980’s], and since then had “razed whole villages in Iraq, created the world’s biggest refugee problem and turned Shi’a and Sunni against each other to destabilize the country.”

Bocelli also raised one of the thorniest issues among progressive Queers: the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy preventing Queer people from serving openly in the U.S. military. Manning reportedly “outed” himself as Gay on his Facebook page just before the leaks he’s alleged to have committed, and has come out for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “We should support the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ not to encourage Queer people to join the military but because Queer people are put on the battlefield and then denied benefits,” she said.

“’Collateral Murder’ is too real: round after round of 30 mm. Fire taking away life,” said Justin Caulker, Navy corpsman and conscientious objector to war. “This is our war: random, disconnected death. There’d been a lot of talk about civilians murdered in Iraq. It flashed me back to the incident in 2003 when two other journalists were killed by U.S. tank fire on their hotel in Baghdad. They took the video from the Army itself, sent it out to the Internet and bypassed the usual media gatekeepers to go directly to the people. The mass media call these ‘leaks,’ as if they were a slow, steady drip on the American electorate. Evidence of murder has to be spirited away from enemy lines.”

Caulker said he didn’t know Manning, “what his intentions are or even if he’s responsible, but like all political prisoners his path is likely to be dark and ugly. Bradley Manning sacrificed his career, his livelihood and his liberty to make this information available. The assertion that the information on WikiLeaks endangers the U.S. military is nonsense. Bradley Manning is not responsible for the risks the troops face. It is the people who send our children to fight and die in wars of aggression that are responsible. It’s the people who take everyone who wants to serve their country and turns them into cannon fodder for imperialist dreams. Bush, Cheney, Obama, Gates and Clinton are the ones who put our troops in jeopardy.”

Michael Anderson, who had begun the rally with a reading of the call to action, ended it with his own reflections on the ties between the anti-war and Queer-rights struggles. “What does ‘equality’ mean if the system we demand equality in is broken?” he said. “Queer people are oppressed economically, more likely to suffer from mental disease and addiction, less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to end u in the ‘poverty draft.’ As the military becomes more Queer-friendly, more Queer people will be likely to serve.” Referring not only to “don’t ask, don’t tell” but the fact that in 26 U.S. states it is still legal to fire someone for being Queer, Anderson said, “When Queer people hide who we are for fear of losing our jobs, we are not free. When we face jail for revealing the true nature of war crimes, we are not free.”


The Bradley Manning Support Group can be reached via the Web at www.bradleymanning.org. The group urges people to write Manning c/o Courage to Resist, 484 Lake Park Avenue, Suite 41, Oakland, CA 94610. Donations to his legal defense fund can be made there or to his Web site, www.bradleymanning.org.

The “Collateral Murder” video has been available through a special WikiLeaks link at www.collateralmurder.com, but at the time of this writing WikiLeaks was offline for “scheduled maintenance.” “Collateral Murder” is still visible on YouTube and other outlets on the Web.