With previously unreleased instant message chat logs, Steve Fishman for New York Magazine published a feature story July 3, 2011, that further examined the accused whistleblower to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning. It looked at his family life before going to Iraq, his time in Baghdad and plans to use the military to pay for college and his current relationship with his father. The tidbit that drew the most attention, and will likely continue to draw attention, was the section of Fishman’s article allegedly detailing Manning’s interest in pursuing a sex change.
Ethan McCord, former specialist in the US Army and Iraq War veteran, who can be seen rescuing children in the “Collateral Murder” video allegedly released by Manning to WikiLeaks, put together a response to Fishman’s article. He sent it to New York Magazine and they agreed to publish portions by Monday, July 11.
The magazine published the portions late on Sunday, July 10—a few sentences where he directly mentioned Manning.
…The chat logs at the center of the story “add depth to the picture that’s emerged of Manning as a psychologically damaged ‘mess of a child,’” Adrian Chen added on Gawker. But others felt the profile, which dealt extensively with Manning’s gender-questioning, focused on the personal at the expense of the political. “If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency,” writes Ethan McCord, a former Army specialist whose unit was depicted in WikiLeaks’s first big scoop, the video “Collateral Murder.” “Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics.”…
Out of McCord’s nearly eight hundred words, the New York Magazine only bothered to publish a little less than one hundred. By using this comment on Manning, the magazine effectively chose to ignore an Iraq War veteran, who should be given more attention by media covering the Manning story but doesn’t get all that much attention because it doesn’t fit the “Bradley-Manning-has-psychological-problems-and-isn’t-really-a-whistleblower” narrative that the culture of the media in the US has been creating over the past months.
Oddly, the magazine appears to pit the words of McCord against Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald. The magazine adds right after the words they used from McCord:
“Though the article focuses on a variety of Manning’s emotional struggles in a way that—as is typical for whistle-blowers or anyone who engages in acts of meaningful dissent—is supposed to make you believe his alleged actions were the by-product of psychological afflictions, it actually achieves the opposite,” agrees Glenn Greenwald at Salon. “What Fishman’s article actually does is bolster the previous view of Manning’s alleged leaks as motivated by noble and understandable horror.”
It appears the editors didn’t fully grasp the irony of Greenwald’s words because it does not seem Greenwald is saying the article focused on the political consciousness that led Manning to allegedly release the material but is saying that if you read it closely (and are as familiar with the story as Greenwald) Fishman adds more to demonstrate that Manning was motivated to take action because of the horror he was seeing in Iraq.
There is nothing wrong with accurately reporting on the experiences of Manning prior to the alleged release of information to WikiLeaks, however, there is a problem with using his behavior and experiences as evidence to explain what he did when he has not been found guilty in a court of law yet and should be presumed innocent.
Two main points must be emphasized from the Fishman article: (1) Media continue to fabricate a connection between Manning and WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and (2) media continue to contend Manning was and is no military whistleblower.
As writer x7o for WikiLeaks Central writes, “Fishman concocts an absurd narrative, whereby Assange – an older man – exploits a sexually vulnerable Manning, and exercises such influence over him as to cause him to exfiltrate classified information. Assange here is made the architect of the leaks, and Manning’s agency is downplayed to make this more plausible.”
Here is how Fishman presents Assange’s relationship with Manning:
The seduction worked both ways. For Assange, someone like Manning was irresistible, too. WikiLeaks had revealed political and banking scandals in Kenya and Switzerland, but a person like Manning had access to more impressive secrets, involving the United States, a central perpetrator of injustice in the world, as Assange saw it, and one on which there were few checks.
Fishman asserts Manning is not a whistleblower. But, as Jesselyn Radack, former ethics adviser to the United States Department of Justice who blew the whistle on the FBI’s ethics violations during its interrogation of John Walker Lindh, has noted:
The Military Whistleblower Protection Act specifies for us which disclosures are protected whistle blowing. Like its civilian counterparts, the law generally protects revealing information that is in the public interest. The act protects disclosures that an employee reasonably believes evidence of violation of law and abuse of power or a substantial danger to public safety…
… Disclosures of war crimes are the sort of revelations the whistleblower protection laws are intended to encourage. There can be no doubt it is in the public interest to know about the terrible events shown in that video.
McCord has understood the importance of the public seeing what really happens in war on a daily basis, which is what the “Collateral Murder” video shows. And, McCord says, “The one thing that the army could not take away from me and could not train out of me is my own humanity.”
“Watching my own brothers and sisters as human beings being slaughtered, I just couldn’t deal with it,” he explains. “I had to speak out about it. I was scared. I wasn’t as brave as Bradley Manning.” He adds that because he had kids the army was able to hold over his head the fear of going to Leavenworth, where Manning is currently imprisoned.
When he got out of the military, he went to the media with his story, like he tried to do with New York Magazine. He experienced a brief moment when the media wanted to hear what he had to say. That moment came in the immediate aftermath of the release of the “Collateral Murder” video. But now, despite his connection to the Bradley Manning/WikiLeaks story, the media doesn’t include him in the narrative.
McCord has spoken out many times in the past months. He hopes he has shown other soldiers they can say what is on their mind and speak out against the military industrial-complex without experiencing bad things. He wants more soldiers to say what they think about the military and believes his actions might inspire other soldiers to step forward.
Here is McCord’s unedited full response to Fishman’s article, which he drafted and sent to New York Magazine:
PFC Bradley Manning, Conscience & Agency
by Ethan McCord, former Specialist U.S. Army
Serving with my unit 2nd battalion 16th infantry in New Baghdad Iraq, I vividly remember the moment in 2007, when our Battalion Commander walked into the room and announced our new rules of engagement:
“Listen up, new battalion SOP (standing operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!”
We weren’t trained extensively to recognize an unlawful order, or how to report one. But many of us could not believe what we had just been told to do. Those of us who knew it was morally wrong struggled to figure out a way to avoid shooting innocent civilians, while also dodging repercussions from the non-commissioned officers who enforced the policy. In such situations, we determined to fire our weapons, but into rooftops or abandoned vehicles, giving the impression that we were following procedure.
On April 5, 2010 American citizens and people around the world got a taste of the fruits of this standing operating procedure whenWikiLeaks released the now-famous Collateral Murder video. This video showed the horrific and wholly unnecessary killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists.
I was part of the unit that was responsible for this atrocity. In the video, I can be seen attempting to carry wounded children to safety in the aftermath.
The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.
Private First Class Bradley Manning has been confined for over a year on the government’s accusation that he released this video and volumes of other classified documents to WikiLeaks — an organization that has been selectively publishing portions of this information in collaboration with other news outlets.
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency. These chat logs allegedly describe how PFC Manning hopes these revelations will result in “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”
Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article Bradley Manning’s Army of One in New York Magazine (July 3, 2011) erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics. The important public issues wrapped up with PFC Manning’s case include: transparency in government; the Obama Administration’s unprecedented pursuit of whistle-blowers; accountability of government and military in shaping and carrying out foreign policy; war crimes revealed in the WikiLeaks documents; the catalyzing role these revelations played in democratic movements across the Middle East; and more.
The contents of the WikiLeaks revelations have pulled back the curtain on the degradation of our democratic system. It has become completely normal for decision-makers to promulgate foreign policies, diplomatic strategies, and military operating procedures that are hostile to the democratic ideals our country was founded upon. The incident I was part of—shown in the Collateral Murder video—becomes even more horrific when we grasp that it was not exceptional. PFC Manning himself is alleged to describe (in the chat logs) an incident where he was ordered to turn over innocent Iraqi academics to notorious police interrogators, for the offense of publishing a political critique of government corruption titled, “Where did the money go?” These issues deserve “discussion, debates, and reforms” — and attention from journalists.
Fishman’s article was also ignorant of the realities of military service. Those of us who serve in the military are often lauded as heroes. Civilians need to understand that we may be heroes, but we are not saints. We are young people under a tremendous amount of stress. We face moral dilemmas that many civilians have never even contemplated hypothetically.
Civil society honors military service partly because of the sacrifice it entails. Lengthy and repeated deployments stress our closest relationships with family and friends. The realities, traumas, and stresses of military life take an emotional toll. This emotional battle is part of the sacrifice that we honor. That any young soldier might wrestle with his or her experiences in the military, or with his or her identity beyond military life, should never be wielded as a weapon against them.
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of, he is a hero of mine; not because he’s perfect or because he never struggled with personal or family relationships—most of us do—but because in the midst of it all he had the courage to act on his conscience.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ethan McCord’s back story: