Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old army private accused of leaking classified military documents and videos to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, stood before a military judge today and for the first time admitted to being the source of the leak.
His admission has garnered headlines but the more interesting aspect of today’s proceeding was Manning’s 35-page-long statement which revealed that he initially tried to leak the classified information he obtained to the New York Times and the Washington Post but they weren’t interested.
While he was on leave from Iraq and staying in the Washington area in January 2010 he contacted the Washington Post and asked would it be interested in receiving information that he said would be “enormously important to the American people”. He spoke to a woman who said she was a reporter but “she didn’t seem to take me seriously”.
The woman said, according to Manning’s account, that the paper would only be interested subject to vetting by senior editors.
Despairing of that route, Manning turned to the New York Times. He called the public editor of the paper but only got voicemail.
He then tried other numbers on the paper but also got put through to voicemail, and though he left a message with his Skype contact details, nobody called him back. Manning added he had also contemplated going to the website Politico, but harsh weather prevented him.
I can’t say I’m surprised considering the deference both the Times and Post have shown to government secrecy and propaganda. Still, that two of the nation’s leading papers would turn down evidence showing government corruption should raise red flags about the state of American journalism.
The job of the press is to hold people in power accountable. That means when a whistleblower approaches with information about said people, the press is supposed make that information public. Instead, they turned Manning away leaving WikiLeaks to do their job for them. And it makes me wonder how many other whistleblowers have been turned away by mainstream news outlets.
Manning also explained that he leaked the information to expose “the true costs of war” to the American public. His statement isn’t available online (yet) but bits and pieces are emerging as news outlets publish what was said:
Sitting at the defence bench in a hushed courtroom, Manning said he was sickened by the apparent “bloodlust” of a helicopter crew involved in an attack on a group in Baghdad that turned out to include Reuters correspondents and children.
He believed the Afghan and Iraq war logs published by the WikiLeaks website, initially in association with a consortium of international media organisations that included the Guardian, were “among the more significant documents of our time revealing the true costs of war“. The decision to pass the classified information to a public website was motivated, he told the court, by his depression about the state of military conflict in which the US was mired.
Manning said: “We were obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and ignoring goals and missions. I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general [that] might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counter-terrorism while ignoring the human situation of the people we engaged with every day.”
Specifically, he denied he had been involved in “aiding the enemy” – the idea that he knowingly gave help to al-Qaida and caused secret intelligence to be published on the internet, aware that by doing so it would become available to the enemy.
He recounted how he had first become aware of WikiLeaks in 2009. He was particularly impressed by its release in November that year of more than 500,000 text messages sent on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He had originally copied the war logs as a good housekeeping measure to have quick access to the information. But the more he read into the data, he said, the more he was concerned about what it was uncovering.
He decided to take a copy of the data on a memory stick when he went back from Iraq to the US on leave in January 2010
Manning also spoke about the video that showed a US military helicopter attacking a Reuters Cameraman and the crew that came to retrieve him:
On his return to Iraq, he encountered a video that showed an Apache helicopter attack from 2007 in which a group of people in Baghdad came under US fire. The group was later found to have included civilians, children and two Reuters correspondents who died.
Manning said he was “troubled” by the resistance of the military authorities to releasing the video to Reuters, and a claim from on high that it might not still exist. When he looked through the video on a secure military database he was also troubled by the attitude of the aerial weapons team in the Apache – “the bloodlust they seemed to have, they seemed not to value human life”.
The soldier related that in the video a man who has been hit by the US forces is seen crawling injured through the dust, at which point one of the helicopter crew is heard wishing the man would pick up a weapon so that they could kill him. “For me that was like a child torturing an ant with a magnifying glass.”
After he had uploaded the video to WikiLeaks, which then posted it as the now notorious “Collateral Murder” video, Manning said he was approached by a senior WikiLeaks figure codenamed “Ox”. He assumed the individual was probably Julian Assange, and gave him his own codename – Nathaniel Frank – after the author of a book he had recently read.
Of the largest portion of the WikiLeaks disclosures – the 250,000 US diplomatic cables – Manning said he was convinced the documents form embassies around the world would embarrass but not damage the US. “I thought these cables were a prime example of the need for more diplomacy. In many ways they were a collection of cliques and gossip,” he said.