Bradley Manning’s Uncommon Courage

With the Iraq invasion’s tenth anniversary just days away, one of its darkest legacies is how the perpetrators escaped accountability and how the innocent and the truth-tellers suffered punishment, including Pfc. Bradley Manning who acknowledges trying to expose war crimes, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

Bradley Manning has pleaded guilty to 10 charges including possessing and willfully communicating to an unauthorized person all the main elements of the WikiLeaks disclosure. The charges carry a total of 20 years in prison. For the first time, Manning spoke publicly about what he did and why. His actions, now confirmed by his own words, reveal Manning to be a very brave young man.

When he was 22 years old, Pfc. Bradley Manning gave classified documents to WikiLeaks. They included 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.

A protester marching in support of whistleblower Bradley Manning.

“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 as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Manning told the military tribunal during his guilty plea proceeding. “It 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.”

Manning said he was frustrated by his inability to convince his chain of command to investigate the Collateral Murder video and other “war porn” documented in the files he provided to WikiLeaks: “I was disturbed by the response to injured children.”

Manning was bothered, too, by the soldiers depicted in the video who “seemed to not value human life by referring to [their targets] as ‘dead bastards.’” People trying to rescue the wounded were also 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.

No one at WikiLeaks asked or encouraged Manning to give them the documents, Manning said. “No one associated with the WLO [WikiLeaks Organization] pressured me to give them more information. The decision to give documents to WikiLeaks [was] mine alone.”

Before contacting WikiLeaks, Manning tried to interest the Washington Post in publishing the documents but the newspaper was unresponsive. He tried unsuccessfully to contact the New York Times.

During his first nine months in custody, Manning was kept in solitary confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide. Manning maintained his not guilty pleas to 12 additional charges, including aiding the enemy and espionage, for which he could get life imprisonment.

Manning’s actions are not unlike those of 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 at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and co-author of “Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent” (with Kathleen Gilberd). She testifies at military hearings about the illegality of the wars, the duty to obey lawful orders, and the duty to disobey unlawful orders. See

15 comments for “Bradley Manning’s Uncommon Courage

  1. john
    March 6, 2013 at 16:22

    Manning and his Lawyers need to read this it will set him free; called the Bond case. Manning was brought up on charges based on USC Title 18, this court of Appeals has ruled Title 18 to have never been properly enacted;
    title 18 usc never passed committee

    9pm EST / 6pm Pacific Tuesday

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    The most significant challenge to federal court jurisdiction is being filed shortly as a class action challenging the jurisdiction of the DOJ to incarcerate federal prisoners. LAW is a group dedicated to the preservation of Constitutional and Human Rights. The lawsuit, in D.C., seeks expungement plus $3,000/day/person. Cost is $2,000 to cover expenses.[1]

    B. The Challenge

    Our group has obtained and verified the evidence directly from Congress that Public Law 80-772 was never passed by Congress, the only statute which gives the court jurisdiction to indict and convict on any crime (Title 18, Title 21, Title 26). No court has addressed the challenge as presented properly[2], nor the evidence obtained by us directly from Congress. Over 3 years, all administrative and court remedies have been exhausted.

    C. Bond Opens the Door

    One of the most significant cases in recent history related to jurisdiction and the right to challenge a federal statute was ruled on by the Supreme Court on June 16, 2011. In Bond v. United States, No. 09-1227, the Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, ruled that Bond had “standing to challenge a federal statute on grounds that the measure interferes with the powers reserved to States”, pg. 3-14. “Anything in repugnance to the Constitution is invalid or unlawful”. Bond, supra.

    Bond now opens the door for us to challenge 18 USC section 3231, part of the enactment of Title 18, which states: “The district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction, exclusive of the courts of the States, of all offenses against the laws of the United States. Nothing in this title shall be held to take away or impair the jurisdiction of the courts of the several States under the laws thereof.” Without the validity of 18 USC § 3231 a federal court must revert the powers of the federal courts back to the states. The Bond ruling provides standing for anyone to challenge 18 USC § 3231 and any crime that could have been tried by the state where you would have received less time (in many cases the state decided not to prosecute at all). See U.S. v. Sharpnack, 355 US 286 (1957). ” It further specifies that “Whoever . . . is guilty of any act or omission which . . . would be punishable if committed or omitted within the jurisdiction of the State . . . in which such place is situated, by the laws thereof in force at the time of such act or omission, shall be guilty of a like [federal] offense and subject to a like punishment.”

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  2. incontinent reader
    March 4, 2013 at 21:01

    As a followup to Prof. Cohn’s article, see Chris Hedges’ analysis of the implications (including to the press) of the Manning trial, together with a link to Manning’s statement at the most recent hearing. It is located at:

  3. Bill Cromer
    March 4, 2013 at 13:29

    Great story concerning the “Collateral Murder” video. The only thing missing is the part about the alien spacecraft that beamed up insurgents who were attacking an American Humvee (Hotel 2/6) from three separate positions – two in the open courtyard to their east – and beamed down innocent civilians.

    Maybe these insurgents, like the insurgents in a dozen or so other gun-site videos posted on the internet who hear Apache helicopters arriving, hide their weapons nearby and began to walk around slowly pretending to be innocent civilians? The Apaches are arriving when the video begins – not circling!

    But none of this explains how the so-called rescue van began moving toward the last position insurgents were using to attack the Humvee, while simultaneously, the Reuters employees begin walking toward that same position. Both moving toward each other on the same road! Nor does it explain why the van turned one block before arriving at the dangerous intersection and the Reuters photographer knelt down and peered around the corner of a building at that position when cautiously photographing the Humvee.

    Ralph Kauzlarich was right when he said, “Yeah! We killed more mother…….”

    • Frances in California
      March 4, 2013 at 17:34

      How do you STAND yourself . . .?

  4. Unc Urb
    March 3, 2013 at 17:08

    The U.S. could use a good dose of transparency, with an equal dose of
    socialism thrown in.
    Bradley Manning is certainly a hero. It’s a shame that more people don’t share his courage, knowledge of right & wrong and his commitment to do the right thing.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    March 1, 2013 at 17:48

    I heard some nit-wit on TV suggest that Manning’s disclosures amounted to “the greatest American intelligence breach in history”. Obviously, a good propaganda job has been done keeping the significance of Jonathan Pollard’s espionage damage on behalf if his Israeli handlers a secret. His treason, which cost or compromised the lives of hundreds of U.S. intelligence operatives and revealed all aspects of U.S. signal intelligence, encryption and communications to the Soviet Union was a true intelligence disaster. All manning did was reveal war crimes and diplomatic hypocrisy. Now that there’s talk of setting that bastard Pollard free, it’s obvious that our government is more concerned about being embarrassed than it is about being betrayed. The effrontery and infantile egotism of our leadership is on public display, and they’re predictably mad as hell. Manning is a scapegoat, plain and simple.

    • incontinent reader
      March 2, 2013 at 07:27

      Absolutely right.

    • F. G. Sanford
      March 3, 2013 at 11:29

      Name one.

      • F. G. Sanford
        March 4, 2013 at 20:11

        You may have forgotten about the frat-boy pranks at Abu Ghraib, or the urinating on corpses…ya s’pose those might have compromised Americans? And, if as you say, “whistle-blowers of this sort offer some benefit in regards to our overall reasons for being involved in a particular war”, please elaborate. Sounds to me like you made my point. Given that English is apparently not your primary language, I suspect you don’t realize what you just said. But you’re right about one thing: What Manning exposed definitely does fall into the category of “public property and records”. Keeping them secret was obstruction of justice.

    • Frances in California
      March 4, 2013 at 17:32

      Wrong, Borat; one can only wish he’d blown the whistle before the boys on joysticks killed those people in “Collateral Murder”. The only thing compromised by Manning’s disclosure was the embarrassing depth of depravity of U.S. State Department.

  6. Hillary.
    March 1, 2013 at 17:42

    Benjamin Franklin said

    “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
    Bradley Manning is not a criminal but a hero.
    Is knowledge of war crimes now “National Security Information” ?

  7. David Hamilton
    March 1, 2013 at 12:16

    In a mission to liberate and win the hearts and minds of people, the last thing any officer or enlisted man should do is target civilians. You can bet that will start a cycle of recriminations and an occupation will fail to stabilize. Many have blamed the extreme American emphasis on force protection for the random shootings and runnings over of innocent people in Iraq.

    • incontinent reader
      March 1, 2013 at 13:15

      Yes, and it is also something fundamental to our use of COIN strategy- i.e., the spread of terror, not only to destroy, but to frighten and influence people. Even if one begs the question of the morality or legality of it, it is something that in the long run can never succeed because it lacks a positive purpose

      • incontinent reader
        March 1, 2013 at 13:35

        I meant to add that it is a strategy has been used again and again, including in Latin America, Vietnam, Africa, and more recently the Middle East and Central Asia, etc. This was the linchpin of Petraeus’ campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called panacea lauded and celebrated by our Congress, including, McCain, Graham, Lieberman and Feinstein, who were so enthralled by Petraeus and his smoke and mirrors.

        Manning seems to have been one who was examining the meaning of his own life and life’s purpose. He has exhibited enormous courage and fortitude in doing what he did and enduring what he has endured. It is something that most or many people may never acknowledge or understand for a long time, if ever, but that has and will benefit them and the nation immeasurably.

        • incontinent reader
          March 1, 2013 at 17:30

          Mea culpa for having included Joe Lieberman in the list. Thankfully he’s departed Congress, though we’ll undoubtedly still hear from him.

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