How Bradley Manning decided to make public the ‘Collateral Murder’ video

From the transcript of Bradley Manning’s statement (compiled by Alexa O’Brien) which he read to the court in Fort Meade, Maryland on Thursday: During the mid-February 2010 time frame the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division targeting analysts, then Specialist Jihrleah W. Showman discussed a video that Ms. Showman had found on the ‘T’ drive.

The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an aerial weapons team. At first I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other war porn type videos depicting combat. However, the recording of audio comments by the aerial weapons team crew and the second engagement in the video of an unarmed bongo truck troubled me.

As Showman and a few other analysts and officers in the T-SCIF [Temporary Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] commented on the video and debated whether the crew violated the rules of engagement or ROE in the second engagement, I shied away from this debate, instead conducting some research on the event. I wanted to learn what happened and whether there was any background to the events of the day that the event occurred, 12 July 2007.

Using Google I searched for the event by its date by its general location. I found several new accounts involving two Reuters employees who were killed during the aerial weapon team engagement. Another story explained that Reuters had requested for a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Reuters wanted to view the video in order to understand what had happened and to improve their safety practices in combat zones. A spokesperson for Reuters was quoted saying that the video might help avoid the reoccurrence of the tragedy and believed there was a compelling need for the immediate release of the video.

Despite the submission of the FOIA request, the news account explained that CENTCOM replied to Reuters stating that they could not give a time frame for considering a FOIA request and that the video might no longer exist. Another story I found written a year later said that even though Reuters was still pursuing their request. They still did not receive a formal response or written determination in accordance with FOIA.

The fact neither CENTCOM or Multi National Forces Iraq or MNF-I would not voluntarily release the video troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the aerial weapons team mistakenly identified Reuters employees as a potential threat and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat but merely ‘good samaritans’. The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.

The dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote “dead bastards” unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.

While saddened by the aerial weapons team crew’s lack of concern about human life, I was disturbed by the response of the discovery of injured children at the scene. In the video, you can see that the bongo truck driving up to assist the wounded individual. In response the aerial weapons team crew– as soon as the individuals are a threat, they repeatedly request for authorization to fire on the bongo truck and once granted they engage the vehicle at least six times.

Shortly after the second engagement, a mechanized infantry unit arrives at the scene. Within minutes, the aerial weapons team crew learns that children were in the van and despite the injuries the crew exhibits no remorse. Instead, they downplay the significance of their actions, saying quote ‘Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kid’s into a battle’ unquote.

The aerial weapons team crew members sound like they lack sympathy for the children or the parents. Later in a particularly disturbing manner, the aerial weapons team verbalizes enjoyment at the sight of one of the ground vehicles driving over a body– or one of the bodies. As I continued my research, I found an article discussing the book, The Good Soldiers, written by Washington Post writer David Finkel.

In Mr. Finkel book, he writes about the aerial weapons team attack. As, I read an online excerpt in Google Books, I followed Mr. Finkel’s account of the event belonging to the video. I quickly realize that Mr. Finkel was quoting, I feel in verbatim, the audio communications of the aerial weapons team crew.

It is clear to me that Mr. Finkel obtained access and a copy of the video during his tenue as an embedded journalist. I was aghast at Mr. Finkel’s portrayal of the incident. Reading his account, one would believe the engagement was somehow justified as ‘payback’ for an earlier attack that lead to the death of a soldier. Mr. Finkel ends his account by discussing how a soldier finds an individual still alive from the attack. He writes that the soldier finds him and sees him gesture with his two forefingers together, a common method in the Middle East to communicate that they are friendly. However, instead of assisting him, the soldier makes an obscene gesture extending his middle finger.

The individual apparently dies shortly thereafter. Reading this, I can only think of how this person was simply trying to help others, and then he quickly finds he needs help as well. To make matter worse, in the last moments of his life, he continues to express his friendly gesture– only to find himself receiving this well known gesture of unfriendliness. For me it’s all a big mess, and I am left wondering what these things mean, and how it all fits together. It burdens me emotionally.

I saved a copy of the video on my workstation. I searched for and found the rules of engagement, the rules of engagement annexes, and a flow chart from the 2007 time period– as well as an unclassified Rules of Engagement smart card from 2006. On 15 February 2010 I burned these documents onto a CD-RW, the same time I burned the 10 Reykjavik 13 cable onto a CD-RW. At the time, I placed the video and rules for engagement information onto my personal laptop in my CHU [Containerized Housing Unit]. I planned to keep this information there until I redeployed in Summer 2010. I planned on providing this to the Reuters office in London to assist them in preventing events such as this in the future.

However, after the WLO [Wikileaks Organization] published 10 Reykjavik 13 I altered my plans. I decided to provide the video and the rules of engagement to them so that Reuters would have this information before I re-deployed from Iraq. On about 21 February 2010, I described above, I used the WLO submission form and uploaded the documents. The WLO released the video on 5 April 2010. After the release, I was concern about the impact of the video and how it would been received by the general public.

I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled– if not more troubled that me by what they saw.

At this time, I began seeing reports claiming that the Department of Defense an CENTCOM could not confirm the authenticity of the video. Additionally, one of my supervisors, Captain Casey Fulton, stated her belief that the video was not authentic. In her response, I decided to ensure that the authenticity of the video would not be questioned in the future. On 25 February 2010, I emailed Captain Fulton, a link to the video that was on our ‘T’ drive, and a copy of the video published by WLO that was collected by the open source center, so she could compare them herself.

Around this time frame, I burned a second CD-RW containing the aerial weapons team video. In order to made it appear authentic, I placed a classification sticker and wrote Reuters FOIA REQ on its face. I placed the CD-RW in one of my personal CD cases containing a set of ‘Starting Out in Arabic CD’s.’ I planned on mailing out the CD-RW to Reuters after our re-deployment, so they could have a copy that was unquestionably authentic.

Almost immediately after submitting the aerial weapons team video and rules of engagement documents I notified the individuals in the WLO IRC [Instand Relay Chat] to expect an important submission. I received a response from an individual going by the handle of ‘ox’– at first our conversations were general in nature, but over time as our conversations progressed, I accessed this individual to be an important part of the WLO.

Due to the strict adherence of anonymity by the WLO, we never exchanged identifying information. However, I believe the individual was likely Mr. Julian Assange [he pronounced it with three syllables], Mr. Daniel Schmidt, or a proxy representative of Mr. Assange and Schmidt.

As the communications transfered from IRC to the Jabber client, I gave ‘ox’ and later ‘pressassociation’ the name of Nathaniel Frank in my address book, after the author of a book I read in 2009.

After a period of time, I developed what I felt was a friendly relationship with Nathaniel. Our mutual interest in information technology and politics made our conversations enjoyable. We engaged in conversation often. Sometimes as long as an hour or more. I often looked forward to my conversations with Nathaniel after work.

The anonymity that was provided by TOR and the Jabber client and the WLO’s policy allowed me to feel I could just be myself, free of the concerns of social labeling and perceptions that are often placed upon me in real life. In real life, I lacked a closed friendship with the people I worked with in my section, the S2 section.

In my section, the S2 section supported battalions and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team as a whole. For instance, I lacked close ties with my roommate to his discomfort regarding my perceived sexual orientation. Over the next few months, I stayed in frequent contact with Nathaniel. We conversed on nearly a daily basis and I felt that we were developing a friendship.

Conversations covered many topics and I enjoyed the ability to talk about pretty much everything, and not just the publications that the WLO was working on. In retrospect that these dynamics were artificial and were valued more by myself than Nathaniel. For me these conversations represented an opportunity to escape from the immense pressures and anxiety that I experienced and built up through out the deployment. It seems that as I tried harder to fit in at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers and lose respect, trust, and support I needed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Facebooktwitterrss
Facebooktwittermail