Manning’s apology: An Orwellian concession that 2+2=5
In a plea for leniency from military judge Col. Denise Lind yesterday, U.S. political prisoner Bradley Manning apologized for releasing thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, dubiously conceding that he may have hurt people by doing so.
“I am sorry that my actions hurt people,” he told the judge. “I’m sorry that they hurt the United States.”
It was not clear however exactly what he meant by hurting people, since the government has been unable to demonstrate that any harm came to a single person as a result of his leaks – despite many grandiose claims to the contrary.
When Judge Lind opened the sentencing portion of Manning’s court-martial last month, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, who had headed a special task force that spent more than 10 months assessing the damage caused by the leaks, testified that one Afghan national was killed as a result of the disclosure of battlefield reports from Afghanistan. He based this claim on a Taliban statement that the group had killed the Afghan.
But on cross-examination, Carr acknowledged that his task force was unable to identify the individual by name and Judge Lind ruled that the testimony would not be admitted into the record.
That was the one and only case in which the government concretely alleged that Manning’s leaks had actually harmed someone, and the military judge ruled it inadmissible. In contrast, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, senseless deaths for which no policymakers or generals have ever apologized or been held accountable.
Yet, much like Winston Smith at the end of the novel 1984, Manning found himself yesterday acknowledging falsehoods as truths in a desperate attempt to secure a merciful sentence from the presiding judge, a woman who quite literally holds his life in her hands. Like Smith, Manning was essentially saying “two plus two equals five,” in a final acquiescence that it is the State that determines what is true and what is not, regardless of verifiable, objective reality.
By apologizing for “hurting the United States,” what the whistleblower may have really meant is that he is sorry for embarrassing the U.S. government. After all, what he did was to expose war crimes and atrocities, as well as malfeasance, corruption and a complete lack of accountability in the government, and it is for that “crime” that he is being punished.
The fact is, when WikiLeaks first exposed the story of the 2007 Apache helicopter massacre in Baghdad with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video in 2010, it was simply providing documentary evidence for what had long been an open secret: war crimes and atrocities were commonplace in U.S.-occupied Iraq.
The video had in fact long been known about – and sought after – by the Reuters news agency, which had lost two of its employees in the massacre. Despite a Freedom of Information Act request for the video, which Reuters wanted to examine in order to improve the safety of its journalists working in Iraq, the Pentagon denied the video’s existence and refused to release it.
It took the courage of Bradley Manning to bring the evidence of this war crime to light.
But yesterday he expressed regret for doing so.
“In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system,” Manning said to the judge. “I had options and I should have used these options.”
While it is understandable that Manning would strive to show contrition to the judge in the face of a possible 90-year prison sentence, it is unclear exactly what he means by saying that he could have effected change by working within the system.
The fact is, numerous soldiers have spoken out about crimes that they have witnessed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan both from within the system and from without, and no one is held accountable. Just two years prior to the WikiLeaks-Manning disclosures, dozens of veterans participated in the Winter Soldier hearings in Maryland in which they offered first-hand accounts of atrocities they had witnessed or participated in during their service.
Clifton Hicks and Steve Casey, for example, testified about their experiences in a “free-fire zone” where everyone was considered enemy combatants regardless of age or any other factor. In November 2003, according to Hicks, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex, completely destroying it and killing an unknown number of civilians.
Atrocities such as these have long been open secrets within the context of the U.S.’s military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. All that Bradley Manning did by exposing them in his release of “Collateral Murder,” as well as the Iraq and Afghan war logs, was to strip the U.S. government of “plausible deniability.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change things,” Manning said yesterday. “I can only go forward. I want to go forward. Before I can do that, I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions.”
Sadly, he may indeed pay a very high price. But what’s perhaps even sadder is that no one else involved in this saga – whether the war criminals he exposed or his captors who mistreated him for the first year of his unlawful pre-trial incarceration – will pay any price at all.