Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Manning's "Struggles"

There's a pretty repulsive profile of Bradley Manning on the front page of the New York Times today, which declares, "the roots of Private Manning’s behavior may spring as much from his troubled youth as from his political views."  While it gives a nod to Manning's own statements that he was sickened by viewing videos of war crimes, The Times story is basically the latest attempt to assume that  whistleblowing and dissent must be rooted in pathology. So we hear yet again about Manning's conflicted sexuality, his clashes with his father, and some new gems, such as "he spent much of his childhood alone, playing video games or huddled in front of a computer."

I was fortunate to be in Fort Meade on June 3 when defense attorney David Coombs delivered his opening statement, and described the onset of Manning's struggles quite differently.
It was 24 December, 2009. He was 22 years young, in Iraq, his first deployment, his first unit. He was excited to be in Iraq, and he was excited to achieve his mission, and hopefully make Iraq a safer place.

The EFP [Explosively Formed Projectile] alert that went out on that day broke the silence of an otherwise calm Christmas Eve. EFP had claimed the lives of too many soldiers. So when an alert went out, everybody in the TOC [Tactical Operation Center] and in the SCIF [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] went into an immediate frenzy to get information.

PFC Manning was sent from the SCIF to the POC to find out what he could find out about the EFP. At that point all they really knew was that an element of the 210 was driving down a road that was rarely used and the lead element had been [inaudible to transcriber]

PFC Manning went to get some additional information but none could be found. They didn't have any updates, so he went back to the SCIF empty-handed. A few tense moments later came the welcome news. Despite the lead element being hit, no soldiers were killed, no soldiers were injured. Everyone in the TOC started celebrating, everyone in the SCIF started celebrating. Good news was welcome on any day, but especially on Christmas Eve.

A few minutes later came some additional news about that EFP, and the report indicated that as the lead element was driving down this road there was this civilian car in front of them, and that civilian car pulled over to the side, as was typical, to allow the convoy to go by, and they pulled over right in front of where that EFP was placed. The car had five occupants, two adults and three children. And that EFP went right through that car and hit that lead element. All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital, one died en route. Everyone in the TOC, in the SCIF was celebrating. Everyone was happy.

Everyone but PFC Manning. He couldn't celebrate. He couldn't be happy. The reason why is he couldn't forget about the life that was lost on that day. He couldn't forget about the lives and the family that was impacted on that Christmas Eve.

And from that moment forward PFC Manning started a struggle.
I may have missed it but I've never seen this story recounted in the mainstream media. It  certainly wasn't in today's Times. But there's a strong case to made that if Manning felt isolated in Iraq, it had less to do with the childhood video games than with the fact he didn't feeling like partying after an Iraqi child was killed.

It is amazing how little, more than 3 years after Manning's arrest, even well-meaning people know about the actual content that Manning leaked or his actual reasons for leaking.  For example, even among many of his supporters there's a sense that Manning leaked for the sake of transparency. But Manning, as least as I read his own words, believed in transparency as a tactic, not the end goal. He wanted to stop the U.S. from committing atrocities -- both of war and "diplomacy" -- in other countries and he used the only weapon he had at his disposal -- information -- to try to do so.

Michael Ratner has argued that one reason for the secret trial is that the government knows that Manning is such a sympathetic defendant.  I agree. Which is why it's so infuriating -- and telling -- that the Times would rather send its armchair psychologists to root through Manning's childhood than let his actions and words speak for themselves.


  1. This is really excellent. I was not aware of Coombs remarks or the story it tells. It's an excellent introduction to Manning's personal transformation and the fact that this incredibly moving story is never told in the mainstream speaks volumes, just as you say.

    1. Thanks! I was blown away when I heard Coombs tell that story and have been incredibly frustrated that we never get to see that side of Manning in the media. And then, of course, the crap we do see . . .

  2. Great post. Manning has been an exemplary human being despite of the shit(baiting, torture, etc) those criminals(US Military, Gov't, and Courtier Media) put him through. The strength and courage of his character shames them.

  3. Beautiful. Thank you.

    I get really sick of idiot pseudo-psychs apparently unable to parse texts accurately. He has cogently explained his motives from the very beginning in the chat logs, and there's no excuse at all for conflating them with the emotional confusion which he is also expressing. When Journos persist in doing this it demonstrates that they are either too lazy or too stupid to be trusted to interpret important documents. And in any case, by my reading, his early childhood (the formative bit) was perfectly happy - there was no lack of love and he had plenty to occupy him.

    And I, too, get tired of the way the 'transparency' story is told; not by supporters though, but by media outlets purporting to relay the views of supporters.

    'Manning, as least as I read his own words, believed in transparency as a tactic, not the end goal'

    Precisely. As do the so-called 'anti-secrecy organisation', WikiLeaks, who have been clear that this is the rationale from the start.

    And it gets worse - Reuters are now referring to whistleblowers as 'anti-secrecy activists'! Talk about woods and trees...

    1. You make a great point about the Wikileaks and the media and one that I haven't fully thought through. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard reporters ask Manning supporters, "Do you think governments should any secrets?" What a horrible, irrelevant question. Why not "Do you think governments should be allowed to cover up their own war crimes?"

  4. He did his country a huge service and his country let him down.

  5. Is MSNBC considered "mainstream" media? They recounted the Christmas Eve story in covering the trial's opening day.

    1. Thanks - I hadn't seen that. I definitely consider MSNBC mainstream even if no one watches. Interesting that this was covered on the news portion of MSNBC. I'd be surprised if any of the MSNBC evening pundits talked about it.

    2. Well even that was muddied thusly:

      "'Manning “started to struggle,' said Coombs, both with concerns for Iraqi civilians, and with gender identity disorder."

  6. It's not ironic at all that I learned of events like this fro reading thousands of war log entries.

    In fact, that's the point.