The twisted justice of Bradley Manning
WikiLeaks’ release of the “Collateral Murder” video in April 2010 offered a brief hope that its raw portrayal of the U.S. occupation of Iraq would place a long-overdue spotlight on the legality of this war and in particular the loose “rules of engagement” that U.S. soldiers operate under. By any objective standards, the video was clear evidence of a massacre in violation of Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War:
Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
By indiscriminately opening fire on a group of civilians who posed no threat, the U.S. forces were clearly in breach of provision (1)(a) of this Convention, and by shooting down the Good Samaritans who came to aid the injured, they were also arguably in violation of provision (2).
Evidently, however, the soldiers were unconcerned about the niceties of international law. In the video, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills, with one joking, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.” Another crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!” Later, when it was revealed that two of their victims were small children, one of the crewmen absolves himself of any responsibility, saying dismissively, “it’s their fault for bringing children to a battle.”
Yet, despite this stomach-churning evidence of a war and occupation that has thrown international standards of conduct out the window, official U.S. outrage was expressed not over the heinous crime that was uncovered, but on the fact that it was uncovered at all. Rather than focus on the perpetrators of the crime, which left more than a dozen people dead, including two Reuters news staff, the official U.S. response was to pursue whoever was responsible for disclosing the video, which the U.S. military had kept hidden for three years.
On July 6, 2010, Private Bradley Manning, a 22 year old Army intelligence specialist stationed in Baghdad, was charged with leaking the video. After initially being imprisoned in Kuwait, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps Base Quantico Brig in Quantico, Virginia, on July 29, where he has been held in solitary confinement ever since.
Manning, who is also accused of leaking the trove of State Department cables that has caused the United States a great deal of embarrassment in diplomatic circles, was initially charged with 12 offenses accusing him of violating federal criminal and military law for unauthorized disclosure of classified information. On March 2, the military unveiled 22 additional charges, including the serious offense of “aiding the enemy,” which carries a potential death sentence.
It was not defined in the charges precisely how Manning has “aided the enemy,” whether by “enemy” the U.S. military means the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, or whether it is a more nebulous term meaning anyone who may object to U.S. foreign policy. Presumably, the term “enemy” refers to al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups that may use the “Collateral Murder” video for propaganda purposes, or use the other information allegedly leaked by Manning, such as the “Afghan War Logs,” to assist their efforts on the battlefield.
Regardless, by any standard it is a legally dubious accusation that would most likely be thrown out of any civilian court. But before Manning has even been given that day in court, he is being subjected to highly punitive measures that Amnesty International has called a violation of international law. In January, Amnesty sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, calling Manning’s detention “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” and in “breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties”:
We understand that PFC Manning’s restrictive conditions of confinement are due to his classification as a maximum custody detainee. This classification also means that – unlike medium security detainees – he is shackled at the hands and legs during approved social and family visits, despite all such visits at the facility being non-contact. He is also shackled during attorney visits at the facility. We further understand that PFC Manning, as a maximum custody detainee, is denied the opportunity for a work assignment which would allow him to be out of his cell for most of the day. The United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), which are internationally recognized guiding principles, provide inter alia that “Untried prisoners shall always be offered opportunity to work” should they wish to undertake such activity (SMR Section C, rule 89).
Amnesty went on:
The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be “subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons …”.
Following the disclosure of additional punitive measures being used against Manning, which include stripping him of his clothes for seven hours each day and forcing him to stand at attention while nude, Amnesty renewed its criticisms and called on support for the WikiLeaks suspect. The human rights group said last week that it will forward to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates messages sent through its Amnesty USA website.
A rally in support of Bradley Manning will be held at Quantico on March 20. The previous day, on Saturday March 19, Manning supporters will be joining the “Resist the War Machine” rally at Lafayette Park. March 19, an international day of action against war and occupation, marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was launched without Security Council authorization in violation of the UN Charter, which states that:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The only exception to this principle is in the case of a defensive response to an armed attack:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain inter- national peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
In the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the crime of launching a war of aggession was called “the supreme international crime,” as it contains within it “the accumulated evil of the whole.” As we watch the shameful saga of Bradley Manning play out, it is worthwhile keeping that admonition in mind. The psychological torture of Bradley Manning, the “Collateral Murder” massacre, the violations of the Geneva Conventions and other international obligations, all have their roots in the initial invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq eight years ago, by any objective standards a criminal war of aggression for which the perpetrators should be held to account.