Bradley Manning: Traitor or Hero?

In announcing the end of the Iraq War, President Obama ignored its horrors, so as not to further upset its still-powerful supporters. But his silence removed the context for Pvt. Bradley Manning’s moral decision to expose these crimes of war, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

The end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq coincided with Pvt. Bradley Manning’s military hearing to determine whether he will face court-martial for exposing U.S. war crimes by leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. In fact, there is a connection between the leaks and U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

When he announced that the last U.S. troops would leave Iraq by year’s end, President Barack Obama declared the nine-year war a “success” and “an extraordinary achievement.” He failed to mention why he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. He didn’t say that it was built on lies about mushroom clouds and non-existent ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Pvt. Bradley Manning

Obama didn’t cite the Bush administration’s “Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq,” drawn up months before 9/11, about which former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reported that actual plans “were already being discussed to take over Iraq and occupy it complete with disposition of oil fields, peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals carrying forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also defended the war in Iraq, making the preposterous claim that, “As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” including the loss of American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world.”

The price that Panetta claims is worth it includes the deaths of nearly 4,500 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. It includes untold numbers wounded – with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicides, as well as nearly $1 trillion that could have prevented the economic disaster at home.

The price of the Iraq war also includes thousands of men who have been subjected to torture and abuse in places like Abu Ghraib prison. It includes the 2005 Haditha Massacre, in which U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed civilians execution-style.

It includes the Fallujah Massacre, in which U.S. forces killed 736 people, at least 60 percent of them women and children. It includes other war crimes committed by American troops in Qaim, Taal Al Jal, Mukaradeeb, Mahmudiya, Hamdaniyah, Samarra, Salahuddin, and Ishaqi.

The price of that war includes two men killed by the Army’s Lethal Warriors in Al Doura, Iraq, with no evidence that they were insurgents or posed a threat. One man’s brains were removed from his head and another man’s face was skinned after he was killed by Lethal Warriors.

U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow Lethal Warriors in Al Doura. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which have been released by Pulse TV and Maverick Media in the new video by Cindy Piester, “On the Dark Side in Al Doura A Soldier in the Shadows.” [].

CBS reported obtaining an Army document from the Criminal Investigation Command suggestive of an investigation into these war crimes allegations. The Army’s conclusion was that the “offense of War Crimes did not occur.”

One of the things Manning is alleged to have leaked is the “Collateral Murder” video which depicts U.S. forces in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two children. People trying to rescue the wounded were fired upon and killed. A U.S. tank drove over one body, cutting the man in half.

The actions of American soldiers shown in that video amount to war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit targeting civilians, preventing the rescue of the wounded, and defacing dead bodies.

Obama proudly took credit for ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But he had tried for months to extend it beyond the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline his predecessor negotiated with the Iraqi government. Negotiations between Obama and the Iraqi government broke down when Iraq refused to grant criminal and civil immunity to U.S. troops.

It was after seeing evidence of war crimes such as those depicted in “Collateral Murder” and the “Iraq War Logs,” also allegedly leaked by Manning, that the Iraqis refused to immunize U.S. forces from prosecution for their future crimes.

When I spoke with Tariq Aqrawi, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, at a recent international human rights film festival in Vienna, he told me that if they granted immunity to Americans, they would have to do the same for other countries as well.

Manning faces more than 30 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and “aiding the enemy” which could carry the death penalty (though prosecutors say they won’t seek it). After a seven-day hearing, during which the prosecution presented evidence that Manning leaked cables and documents, there was no evidence that leaked information imperiled national security or that Manning intended to aid the enemy with his actions.

On the contrary, in an online chat attributed to Manning, he wrote, If you had free reign over classified networks 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?”

He went on to say, God knows what happens now.  Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.  I want people to see the truth because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Manning has been held for 19 months in military custody. During the first nine months, he was kept in solitary confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide. He was humiliated by being stripped naked and paraded before other inmates.

The U.S. government considers Manning one of America’s most dangerous traitors. Months ago, Obama spoke of Manning as if he had been proved guilty, saying, “he broke the law.” But Manning has not been tried, and is presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.

If Manning had committed war crimes instead of exposing them, he would be a free man today. If he had murdered civilians and skinned them alive, he would not be facing a charge that carries the potential of the death penalty.

Besides helping to end the Iraq war, the leaked cables helped spark the Arab Spring. When people in Tunisia read cables revealing corruption by the ruling family there, they took to the streets.

If Manning did what he is accused of doing, he should not be tried as a criminal. He should be hailed as a national hero, much like Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers helped to expose the government’s lies and end the Vietnam War.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her books include Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent and The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse. See

8 comments for “Bradley Manning: Traitor or Hero?

  1. December 27, 2011 at 18:27

    There is new startling information about the current wars and much else that followed upon the 9/11 attacks at

  2. David Kennedy
    December 27, 2011 at 05:37

    The treatment of Bradley Manning, and the thinking behind it, tells us all we need to know about the ‘heart of evil’. This is no righteous empire fulfilling manifest destiny, but a cabal of evil people seeking to dominate the world for their own selfish ends, who will stop at nothing to achieve this. Without justice there can be no peace, and without truth there can be no justice. TRUTH IS DEAD! Propaganda and control of the major channels of communication have seen to that.
    The nightmare continues. Will it ever end? Greed is a form of madness and it is this madness that now rules the world. The threat is NOT to the earth, or the climate, or diminishing resources. The threat is to LIFE, human life and all other forms of life. That is how nature rids itself of madness.

  3. Robert Eichmuller
    December 27, 2011 at 02:34

    May those brave Whistle Blowers never die for we need them to keep Humanity honest. i hope another Manning will step up and take its place to expose Obama’s War Crimes for future Generations. the really sad part is that it is a colored man that is taking away our civil rights our fore fathers were fighting for.
    but, i guess that’s called justice.

  4. herb davis
    December 26, 2011 at 12:20

    Not even close…HERO. As a peace officer, I joined ACLU when Hoover was spying on MLK….King and Manning will be in the history books for all time as great Americans!

    • Donna
      December 30, 2011 at 10:27

      I hope you are right! This filthy killing machine our tax money supports is breaking my spirit. There seems to be no victory for those of us against it. Many Americans have turned into into mush and cannot think their way out of the vacuum. My only inspirations these days are people who will stand up to it. I think Americans have become complacent with murder and war crimes. The media has been very effective in keeping people in the dark.

  5. pessimist
    December 24, 2011 at 13:22

    Ms. Cohn’s points and conclusions are right on, but, in the case of Fallujah- with the number of deaths she cites- may greatly understate the carnage that occurred there, and the criminality of those who planned that action- including those all the way up the chain of command.

    Fallujah had been a city of approximately 300,000. Think of it on the scale of Tampa or Anaheim or Cincinnati. After the deaths of U.S. some contractors, the U.S. attacked the city twice. Supposedly 90-95% of the population escaped before the U.S. attacked it the second time when it leveled the city. There is also evidence to indicate that our troops prevented teenage males from leaving the city before the second attack. The numbers Ms. Cohn cites are figures consistent with the Red Cross statistics of civilians killed. However, independent journalists, such as Robert Fisk, who have cross-checked this type of statistic elsewhere against hospital and morgue records have found that the number of Iraqi deaths were greatly underestimated on a regular basis. So, it is not unreasonable to conclude that in Fallujah where the city was leveled, there were probably many more civilian deaths that were never recorded.

    Manning and Assange have been heros in disclosing the type of criminality that the Nuremberg tribunal and the International Court of Criminal Justice were set up to prosecute, and all the more so for the suffering they have been forced to endure. Whether our country will accept responsibility for our wars in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, and therefore whether the public will understand the value of what Manning and Assange have done is unfortunately an open question.

    The U.S. never faced up to its guilt over Vietnam, and repeatedly refused the granting of reparations to rebuild that country. Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have metastasized throughout the MIddle East in a way that the Crusaders could never have imagined- and have done so, and continue to do so, as part of a predatory neoconservative agenda- one that has been influenced by- our one ally in the Middle East in concert with the U.S. energy industry.

    Like cancer, these policies have spun out of control, and if current U.S. election politics provide any clue, will continue to remain out of control and spread elsewhere in the world.

  6. Rory B
    December 24, 2011 at 11:54

    No government including the U.S. (especially us since we have the propensity and the gull to say that we fight wars for the best interest of those involved) should be above the law or above being exposed for wrong doing. If we had Wikileaks in the 60’s the entire Gulf of Tonkin incident would have been exposed for the fabrication it was and we would either not have been involved in Vietnam or would have exited a lot sooner. It may even prevented some of our future excursions including Gulf War Part 2 from happening at all. By my definition of a hero and a patriot, Pvt. Manning fits both categories. Unfortunately he will become a sacrifice to the system. Unless human rights organizations and ordinary individuals pull the military and government by the short hairs, he will be an old man before he breathes free air. I hope he knows he may have saved countless lives, both soldier and Iraqi civilian by his actions. I would classify Julian Assange as a hero as well. Oh, how convenient it was to accuse him of a bogus charge to silence him. It didn’t seem to work. You see, our government doesn’t assassinate people (Well, at least not high profile people) like they did in the 1960’s. They just destroy your credibility via the corporate controlled media. The trouble with that is people are coming out of their coma and beginning to think for themselves again. How ironic is it that a medium like the internet which in part was developed by and for the military will probably be the biggest counter to their B.S. propaganda machine. That saying from the X Files, “The truth is out there” is true and we need more people like Manning and Assange to bring the real truth to the surface.

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