if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… … and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do? … say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?
This quote is attributed to PFC Bradley Manning, a 23 year-old intelligence analyst for the U.S. military who was stationed in eastern Baghdad until his arrest last May. It comes from an internet chat log turned over to the FBI by hacker Adrian Lamo, famous originally for his internet activism against large corporations. In these chat logs Bradley allegedly discussed his role in leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
PFC Manning’s case has already drawn the attention of most major news sources, with mixed coverage. On the positive side, he was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was the UK Guardian reader’s choice for the award. Undoubtedly, more Americans will hear of him as the year progresses.
But what should the public think of this undeniably complicated case? And why does discussion of PFC Manning belong here on an environmental blog? I will attempt to answer both of these questions shortly, but first allow me to introduce myself.
I currently work as an organizer for Courage to Resist, a non-profit that supports GI War Resisters facing various sorts of legal and political challenges. However, I organized for environmental justice throughout college and I even spent four months interning at RAN.
Courage to Resist is the fiscal sponsor for the Bradley Manning Support Network, an international movement involving a broad range of organizations and activists. We have taken up the cause of PFC Manning because he is the most prominent GI Resister of our time, and we believe the handling of his case will set a precedent for other government and military whistleblowers. Not only that, but the outcome of PFC Manning’s trial will have a significant influence on the future of our democracy, and the work of those advocating for social change in particular, RAN being no exception.
What we know about PFC Bradley Manning prior to his arrest is that he was a young idealistic man from a working class background. According to a gay rights activist with whom Manning had conversations, Bradley followed his father’s footsteps in joining the army because he had dreams of attending college to study Physics, but did not have the financial resources. Smart, technologically adept, openly queer (a friend once said Bradley credited his participation in anti-DADT marches for sparking his interest in other political issues), he also took the perspective of a world citizen. Although he wished the Army was more friendly to diversity, he hoped that through his service he could spread democracy, and save both U.S. and Iraqi lives.
Because of his technological skills, he was given the job of Intelligence Analyst stationed in Eastern Baghdad. At the beginning of his deployment, he told friends and family that he was happy and proud of his position. It was some time during his deployment that his views began to change. Insight as to why comes from the chat logs attributed to him:
i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything… was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees… everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently… i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
Several months after that incident took place, Bradley Manning was charged with releasing the documents now known as the Collateral Murder video, Iraq War Logs, Afghan War Diary, and U.S. Diplomatic Cables (which included one document which is being credited with the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all troops from Iraq).
The revealed information describes thousands of secret actions of top U.S. State Department and military officials, as well as officials from other governments around the world. Actions that fit into a historical pattern of how wealth and big business influence U.S. relations abroad, but that run contrary to the public image most politicians strive to present. The information he is accused of releasing has been cited in over a third of New York Times editions of the past year. The revealed documents give us tremendous insight into what it truly means to call the United States a world power.
Many environmental organizations, RAN being a prime example, recognize that the immense power of modern multinational corporations is a major threat in the struggle for a just and sustainable world. Beholden to their shareholders and their bottom-line above all else, these corporations stoop to promoting lies about how ethical their operating processes are, debunked by groups such as RAN. They also use their immense financial resources, with larger spending power than many small countries, to influence public policy through backroom lobbying.
Here are some examples of the sorts of environmental crimes revealed through the documents Bradley Manning allegedly gave to WikiLeaks, crimes which have been blogged about by Greenpeace, RAN, and other similar organizations:
- The 2010 BP oil disaster could have been predicted and prevented. It turns out BP had a massive oil blowout in Azerbaijan in 2008 that was very similar in cause and consequence to their blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
- The Fukushima nuclear disaster could also have been avoided. The disaster is now ranked more severe than Chernobyl, due to contamination. Japan was warned two years ago that their nuclear power plants could not withstand a major earthquake.
- The U.S. used spying, threats, and promises of aid to gain support for the Copenhagen Accord. The Copenhagen Climate Accord of 2009 has been criticized by environmental groups across the board, because it is not legally binding and does not commit countries to agree to a binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Additionally, although the United States has the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world, the Accord allows us the lowest target for emissions reductions of any industrialized nation, at 17%.
- Peru’s government has secretly admitted that 70-90% of its mahogany exports were illegally felled. Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators have all confirmed they use the timber in their products. The loggers pose a grave threat to uncontacted Murunahua Indians who could be wiped out by diseases brought by outsiders or face inter-tribal warfare if they are pushed off their lands.
- An Indonesian governor believes that the Indonesian Military keeps more troops in Papua New Guinea than it admits to in order to facilitate illegal logging operations. Additionally, a senior official for Freeport mine, Indonesia’s largest taxpayer, admitted that average Papuans see few benefits from the extractive industries’ revenues.
- Several countries, including the United States, are preparing to fight over Arctic oil. While President Obama publicly declared a commitment to protecting the Arctic’s unique ecosystem and Indigenous culture, State Department correspondence reveals an alarmingly different story.
- A U.S. diplomat warned the Obama administration about significant environmental impacts stemming from Canada’s controversial tar sands oil production program. This contradicts public statements from the State Department that attempt to downplay the environmental impact of the tar sands.
- The U.S. government conspired with Biotech companies to force genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the European Union.
- In correspondence with U.S. officials, the oil giant Shell claimed that it had inserted staff into all main ministries of the Nigerian government, allowing it secret insight and political influence in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
- Chevron executives worked in tandem with U.S. officials to avoid paying $18.2 billion in court-ordered damages after the energy giant acquired Texaco, which had dumped billions of gallons of waste in Indigenous areas.
Looking at this evidence, I conclude that we cannot create a sustainable world for ourselves and fellow living beings without government and corporate transparency and accountability. And we cannot have transparency and accountability of powerful systems without whistleblowers like PFC Bradley Manning.
When Adrian Lamo asked PFC Manning what he hoped to accomplish as a result of the leaks, he allegedly said “hopefully worldwide discussion, debate, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” It will be nothing short of a tragedy for our democracy if a young, conscientious whistleblower who has exposed so much of the dirty underbelly of foreign diplomacy between powerful economic interests goes to prison for life to prevent the American conscience from being challenged with the truth. The truth that a world led by neoliberal policies and corporations cannot create a more just future. The truth that it’s up to us, as American citizens, to hold our leaders accountable and organize ourselves persistently until we create the world we want to see.
On Monday last week the Military finally announced that after 18 months of incarceration, Bradley’s first day in court will be held on December 16 in the Washington D.C. area. The Bradley Manning Support Network is organizing a demonstration on December 17, which is also Bradley’s birthday, and there will be solidarity actions taking place around the world. Please visit our website for more information.
Bradley Manning now faces a military trial and the possibility of life in prison. Find our petition to free him and other ways you can help here.
Filmmaker Michael Moore recently explained at the #OccupySF general assembly how Bradley Manning helped inspire #OccupyWallStreet. Watch the video.
|This post was written by Emma Cape, former RAN intern and current organizer for Courage to Resist.|