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Many in Media Claim Bradley Manning's Leaks Had Little Value—Here's Why They're So Wrong | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Many in Media Claim Bradley Manning's Leaks Had Little Value—Here's Why They're So Wrong


"WikiLeaks" graphic is displayed on a laptop. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The debate in the media, and in political circles, over Edward Snowden—Right or Wrong, often doubles back on references to Bradley Manning (especially since he is now, finally, on trial). Sometimes both are hailed or denounced equally. Other times distinctions are drawn. In any event, too often (that is, most of the time), the value and import of the Manning/WikiLeaks disclosures are ignored or dismissed, much as Snowden’s NSA scoops now derided as “nothing new.”

At this point, I don’t expect much more than this, but it was shocking to see Josh Marshall, the much-respected founder/editor/publisher of Talking Points Memo (years ago I wrote a couple pieces for them and conducted book forums), in endorsing prosecution of Snowden and Manning, also make this claim about the Manning/WikiLeaks docs: they revealed only “a couple clear cases of wrongdoing.”

So for Josh, and so many others, who either suffer from memory loss or ignorance on this particular score, here is a partial accounting of some of the important revelations in the Manning leak, drawn from my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Manning case, Truth and Consequences. The book has just been updated this month but the revelations below all came before March 2011—many others followed.

First, just a very partial list from “Cablegate” (excluding many other bombshells that caused a stir in smaller nations abroad):

* The United States pressured the European Union to accept GM—genetic modification, that is.

* The Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the United States. All part of giving the United States full rein in country against terrorists.

* The United States tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition.

* Egyptian torturers trained by the FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.

* State Dept memo: US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional.”

* Cables on Tunisia appear to help spark revolt in that country. The country’s ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country’s first lady may have made massive profits off a private school.

* The United States knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy.

* Cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect US interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war.

* Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown.

* Extremely important historical document finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie’s cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion.

* United Kingdom sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs. Officials concealed from Parliament how the United States is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty.

* New York Times: “From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.”

* Afghan vice president left country with $52 million “in cash.”

* Shocking levels of US spying at the United Nations (beyond what was commonly assumed) and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles.

* Potential environmental disaster kept secret by the United States when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere.

* The United States used threats, spying and more to try to get its way at last year’s crucial climate conference in Copenhagen.

* Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland.

* Hundreds of cables detail US use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus. Hints of corruption and bribes.

* Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov’t uses (or stolen) instead.

* Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.”

* The US secret services used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program.

* As protests spread in Egypt, cables revealed that strong man Suleiman was at center of government’s torture programs, causing severe backlash for Mubarak after he named Suleiman vice president during the revolt. Other cables revealed or confirmed widespread Mubarak regime corruption, police abuses and torture, and claims of massive Mubarak famiiy fortune, significantly influencing media coverage and US response.

Now, an excerpt from our book on just a small aspect of the Iraq war cables. This doesn’t even include the release of the “Collateral Murder” video earlier.

Al Jazeera suggested that the real bombshell was the US allowing Iraqis to torture detainees. Documents revealed that US soldiers sent 1300 reports to headquarters with graphic accounts, including a few about detainees beaten to death. Some US generals wanted our troops to intervene, but Pentagon chiefs disagreed, saying these assaults should only be reported, not stopped.  At a time the US was declaring that no torture was going on, there were 41 reports of such abuse still happening “and yet the US chose to turn its back.”

The New York Times report on the torture angle included this: “The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.

“And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate….That policy was made official in a report dated May 16, 2005, saying that ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’ In many cases, the order appeared to allow American soldiers to turn a blind eye to abuse of Iraqis on Iraqis.”

Amnesty International quickly called on the US to investigate how much our commanders knew about Iraqi tortur.

A top story at The Guardian, meanwhile, opened: “Leaked Pentagon files obtained by The Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.

“British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed, ‘We don’t do body counts.’ The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tote up every casualty, military and civilian.

“Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: ‘These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public”’ The logs recorded a total of 109,032 violent deaths between 2004 and 2009.

Citing a new document, the Times reported: “According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter…. The documents…reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians—at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.”

And now, re the Afghanistan war logs:

The Times highlighted it as “The War Logs” with the subhed, “A six-year archive of classified military documents offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.” Explicitly, or by extension, the release also raised questions about the media coverage of the war to date.

The Guardian carried a tough editorial on its web site, calling the picture “disturbing” and raising doubts about ever winning this war, adding: “These war logs—written in the heat of engagement—show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitized ‘public’ war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.”

Elsewhere, the paper traced the CIA and paramilitary roles in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, many cases hidden until now. In one incident, a US patrol machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing fifteen. David Leigh wrote, “They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ‘cheap’.”

The paper said the logs also detailed “how the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.”  Previously unknown friendly fire incidents also surfaced.

The White House, which knew what was coming, quickly slammed the release of classified reports— most labeled “secret”—and pointed out the documents ended in 2009, just before the president set a new policy in the war; and claimed that the whole episode was suspect because WikiLeaks was against the war.  Still, it was hard to dismiss official internal memos such as: “The general view of Afghans is that current gov’t is worse than the Taliban.”

Among the revelations that gained prime real estate from The New York Times: “The documents…suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” The Guardian, however, found no “smoking gun” on this matter. The Times also reported that the US had given Afghans credit for missions carried out by our own Special Ops teams.

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Obviously much more in our book.

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