Posts Tagged collateral murder
More than 60 of us filled the courtroom, and spilled into the overflow trailer, at Ft. Meade last Thursday (July 25). The chief prosecutor for the government, a sneering Major Fein, in closing argument called Bradley Manning a “traitor” for the first time, and also a “hacker,” an “anarchist,” and a “humanist who does not care about humans.” He mentioned Julian Assange – who is not publicly indicted with any U.S. crime – dozens of times.
The government’s claim is that when Manning was sent to Baghdad in fall 2009 as a 22 year old Army intelligence specialist, he went to work “for Wikileaks,” digging through classified documents to supply material for Wikileaks’ “Most Wanted” List for 2009. Fein claimed that Manning “chatted” with Julian Assange about what he could supply Wikileaks, and that both Wikileaks and Manning intended to make the material available to “the enemy,” specifically, Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula via the internet.
The danger in this characterization of Manning and Wikileaks’s actions or intentions, beyond it being clearly false and unsupported by any evidence, is that any information posted on the internet, or in print, could be argued, under the same logic to be intentionally directed at “the enemy.” The government claims that information from Wikileaks was found in possession of Osama bin Laden when he was executed in 2011. They do not say if information from any other news sources were also found. The chilling prospect, of treason charges against journalists, is not so remote, says Glenn Greenwald:
“Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler explained in the New Republic in March why this theory poses such a profound threat to basic press freedoms as it essentially converts all leaks, no matter the intent, into a form of treason.”
Sitting about ten feet behind Bradley — who is not allowed any contact, eyes or otherwise, with supporters — we ached with anger and sorrow. His last few weeks in a room with people besides other prisoners and guards are passing, with the threat of life + 154 years in prison hanging heavy.
On Friday, we rushed to get one of the 36 passes to be inside the courtroom for Defense Attorney David Coombs’ closing argument. We were buoyed by the appearance on Thursday of a full-page ad “We Are Bradley Manning” in the New York Times, tangible evidence of the millions supporting Bradley worldwide.
The drama of Coombs’ conversation with the judge — which is how he approached his closing argument — surpassed that of July 8, when he opened the defense case by showing the footage from Collateral Murder, or the Apache video, as it’s called in the government’s exhibit. I’ve showed this video dozens of times to audiences from middle-school to churches, and to people on the street who wanted to watch it, to learn. Coombs chose the three excerpts to show that always get people the most upset, directing the judge to try and see the scene as Bradley first saw it in fall 2009. At that time Reuters, for whom two of the men killed on screen worked, had still not been allowed to know what happened, though they had gone through “proper channels” for two years in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Bradley learned that, saw the footage, and decided that the public, particularly those of us in the U.S., needed to see it too. I’ll turn the story over to Kevin Gosztola, who has covered this story diligently, and cogently, for years. See Clips from ‘Collateral Murder’ Video, Defense Attempts to Show ‘Truth’ About Bradley Manning, and watch the three clips that Coombs showed and the significant parts of Coombs’ explanation to the judge about what the clips represent.
On Monday, July 8, Bradley Manning’s defense began with what was surely one of the most intense and unusual openings in U.S. military or civilian court history. Almost without introduction, the 39 minute version of Collateral Murder was played on five screens, while the military judge seemed to read along from the chilling transcript. The more frequently viewed 17 minute version has the Apache helicopter attack on a group of Iraqis, including a cameraman and reporter working for Reuters. But the prosecution, for unfathomable reasons, insisted that the longer version, which includes another horrific attack from the Apache on an apparently unarmed Iraqi.
There were tears in the full court room at all the appropriate points. 25 of Bradley’s supporters were allowed in the public seats at any one time, switching with 52 others who filled the overflow trailer. We succeeded in having the largest turnout to date to support Bradley at trial, including many who were coming for the first time, 24 of us from New York. The security detail counted and re-counted, short of badges, nervously herding the overflow.
The Collateral Murder footage was what made us support Bradley before we had any idea he existed. On April 5, 2010, when Wikileaks first published the video which they named Collateral Murder, we knew it was a myth-breaker for those who still thought the U.S. was in Iraq to “save” lives and help people. The Standard Operating Procedure of U.S. war-fighting in contested urban areas of occupation came through strongly enough visually. Add in the callous, outrageous chatter of the gunners – which was what Bradley testified this past February caught his attention and horrified him — and you have crimes of war writ large.
This footage figures importantly in the U.S. case against Bradley, as they argue he intentionally released it and other material to Wikileaks, knowing it would get into the hands of “the enemy.” But the defense presented testimony that the footage had already been in the public domain, was no longer classified, and that Bradley was not collaborating with Wikileaks, but rather leaked the material to them when other news organizations didn’t respond to his entreaties to publish the real story of the Iraq & Afghanistan occupations.
Col. Morris Davis was brought by the defense to speak to another contention of the prosecution, that leaking the Guantanamo Detainee Assessment Briefs caused harm because “the enemy” could read them. Davis, a military lawyer and law professor now at Howard, was put in charge of the whole military prosecution structure at Guantanamo in 2005, but quit in protest in 2007 because he said it would be impossible to promote just prosecutions. He was the author of the Close Guantanamo petition on Change.org in May, which more than 200,000 people signed. Ed Pilkington wrote in The Guardian:
Davis said he had also checked against information provided in newspaper articles, a docu-drama called The Road to Guantánamo and a book, The Guantánamo Files, that was published three years before the WikiLeaks disclosures. He said he had concluded that “if you watch the movie, read the book and the articles, you would know more about them than if you read the detainee assessment briefs”.
Davis testified that the DAB’s were almost useless to the prosecution, because they were so hastily and casually constructed. We learned Tuesday that the five DAB’s picked out by the prosecution — although of course this was all kept secret in the courtroom — included Shaker Aamer. Aamer is outrageously, still at Guantanamo after eleven years, although he was cleared for release by Bush in 2007, and again in 2010. Three others were members of the Tipton 3, featured in the film The Road to Guantanamo, who got out years ago, and in our friend Andy Worthington’s book. None of the erroneous and incomplete information gathered by US intelligence years ago could have any relevance now compared to actual journalism.
The Justice Department has an ongoing grand jury investigation into Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and an active interest in the case against Manning, as a route to potential prosecution of Wikileaks. There was testimony today by defense witness Harvard professor Yochai Benkler who contends that Wikileaks is a legitimate news organization, thereby entitled to First Amendment protection, and not “the enemy” Manning is charged with aiding.
Kevin Gosztola noted,
What happens here will create precedent for pursuing future whistleblowers or leakers. Depending on how WikiLeaks ends up being cast in the ruling, it may become a factor in how the US government continues its investigation and potential indictment of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, WikiLeaks staffers or volunteers connected to WikiLeaks.
The defense rested on July 10, after ten witnesses testified. The court martial resumes at 3:00 pm Monday July 15, with more motion arguments, and an expected rebuttal from the prosecution. There may be more from the defense before the Judge announces decisions on the 22 charges. Then the trial moves to the sentencing phase, which will likely involve weeks more of arguments.
Stay tuned for another call-out for maximum support at the trial.
These reporters have been at the trial every day:
Coverage from Associated Press and The New York Times has been occasional.
We learned while in a strange, airless, windowless trailer-like military court at the infamous Ft. Meade, during the trial of Bradley Manning on Thursday, June 28, that the U.S. military has blocked access, worldwide, for anyone in the military to the website of The Guardian, apparently in reaction to the leaks by Edward Snowden on vast surveillance of whole populations by the National Security Administration. Ironically, or not, Ft. Meade is the home of the NSA.
The criminals, according to the U.S. government, are the leakers such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden and journalists such as Glenn Greenwald who publish the information about U.S. war crimes which we, the public, are supposed to support, or, at least ignore. The “enemy” is us, the public, explicitly, in the case of Bradley, who is charged with “aiding the enemy.”
This is all backwards, to risk understatement. The crime of aggressive war is the supreme war crime. To have waged such a war, destroying a country’s infrastructure, society, displacing millions, displacing and killing uncounted numbers — and all on the basis of lies, as was the U.S. war on Iraq — is the criminal offense we should be trying the leaders of the Bush regime for.
Instead, Bradley Manning, a private who joined to pay for college, sent to a Forward Operating Base outside Baghdad, is facing charges for which the U.S. government wants him in prison for life, and which could potentially lead to the death penalty. Preliminary hearings went on for many months, during which, last February, Bradley made a declaration taking responsibility for sending classified documents to WikiLeaks. The prosecution will finish its case against him this week, charging, most seriously, that he “aided the enemy.”
History is being made in this courtroom, but as is often the case in the proceedings of empire, on the surface, the proceedings are banal. The judge takes pains to point out Bradley’s rights as accused, all the better to not be reversed in an appeal. The large team of prosecutors comes and goes with stacks of files, as if this is business as usual, and as if “justice” will be served. Each morning the lead prosecutor informs the judge of how many members of the media and the public are present. There is a lot of talk about the rights of the public, while the public is searched, told not to talk, and treated as the “enemy” we are.
Bradley is charged with leaking “Cablegate” files, and specifically 117 of them, as allowed by the judge last week. Kevin Gosztola notes that these aren’t the cables that made news when released. He speculates on why these documents, which concerned countries all over the world including Iraq and Afghanistan, were charged:
Peter Van Buren, a former Foreign Service Officer for the State Department who helped lead two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq from 2009-2010, told Firedoglake that none of the cables from the US Embassy in Baghdad that Manning is charged with disclosing to WikiLeaks jump out at him as “anything special or concrete.” He suggested that many of them were reports done by State Department employees as if they were journalists.
The fact that none of the cables appear to be any that received widespread attention in the media when WikiLeaks published them is, to Van Buren, a possible symptom of the State Department’s “schizophrenia about WikiLeaks.” They have wanted to claim the release of cables was an “incredible crime against the US government” while at the same time wanting to “reassure” leaders of countries around the world that the “really important stuff was protected” and not compromised.
The prosecution attempted to get the judge to allow them to submit tweets from WikiLeaks as evidence that Bradley was working with WikiLeaks, providing what they asked for. We learned that the prosecutors hadn’t subpoenaed Twitter for those records, and had someone find them on Google, perhaps because they know they don’t have to work very hard here to get a “guilty” verdict from the military judge. The judge did deny one 2009 WikiLeaks tweet into evidence, but allowed others.
A small defense victory Thursday came when the judge seemed to indicate she’ll allow them to submit evidence arguing that the Collateral Murder video of the July 2007 Apache helicopter attack killing 12 Iraqi civilians was no longer “classified” by 2010 when Manning sent it to Wikileaks. It’s worth noting that this footage was sought by Reuters, (who employed two of the men killed in the attack) for three years, unsuccessfully.
The most interesting testimony Friday was from Col. David Miller, who had commanded Manning’s brigade in Iraq in 2010, which was assigned to “Operation New Dawn,” the U.S. cynical attempt to “teach” Iraqis to provide their own security, as he explained. Miller told how he thought Manning, who had once briefed him at Ft. Drum before deployment was smart, but that the whole unit “took a hit” and that he was “stunned” when he learned of the charges against Manning. “The last thing I anticipated was an internal security breach from one of our own.”
Nathan Fuller, writing for the Bradley Manning Support Network, wrote:
On cross-examination, Col. Miller testified that there were no restrictions on surfing the SIPRNet, the military’s Secret-level internet, where he perused the State Department’s Net-Centric Diplomacy Database. He also said that soldiers were allowed to download files to their computers and to digital media, such as CDs, and there were no restrictions on the ‘manner’ in which a soldier could download. This refutes the claim that by using the download-automating Wget program, Manning exceeded his authorized computer access.
NOW: Take-home message:
The prosecution will rest July 1 or 2. After the holiday weekend, on Monday July 8, the defense will begin. Let this be a day where the prosecutor has to tell the judge that the media trailer is full; the public seats are all taken, and the overflow trailer is also full. If you can’t get to Ft. Meade, join in the conversation online; send donations; talk to everyone you know about this case, and why telling the truth should not be a crime.
And, order a copy of Collateral Murder to show, to project outside, to share. What is so dangerous about this footage that Bradley should spend life in prison for releasing it? It shows war crimes, done in our name.
Finally, consider Julian Assange’s comments on the trial:
This is not justice; never could this be justice… The verdict was ordained long ago. Its function is not to determine questions such as guilt or innocence, or truth or falsehood. It is a public relations exercise, designed to provide the government with an alibi for posterity. It is a show of wasteful vengeance; a theatrical warning to people of conscience.
Saturday, we gathered at Ft. Meade for the largest support action for Bradley Manning during the three+ years of his imprisonment before trial. I saw MANY subscribers to the World Can’t Wait e-newsletter list, donors to the recent New York Times “Close Guantanamo” ad, activists from years of opposition to U.S. wars, and younger people who have come forward mainly because they are inspired by the integrity and honesty of Bradley Manning.
Bradley, at the center of the most important political trial of this century, is an extraordinary person, motivated (as we now know), by the wish to get people living in this country to see what the government is doing. The high stakes here described by Revolution Newspaper are:
“This system is out to inflict extreme punishment on Bradley Manning—to jail him for a long time, perhaps life, and to use this cruel punishment of a brave person as an example to anyone else who would dare expose the crimes of empire. The courage and resilience with which Manning has withstood years of solitary confinement and almost a year of torture are a testament to his strength.”
Emma Kaplan, in Free Bradley Manning: The World is Not the Enemy quotes Bradley in explaining how much he learned:
“I also recall that in early 2009 the then newly elected president, Barack Obama, stated he would close Joint Task Force Guantanamo, and that the facility compromised our standing over all, and diminished our, quote unquote, “moral authority.” After familiarizing myself with the DABs, I agreed….
“The more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would’ve been released if they were held in theatre.”
Attorney Michael Ratner, this morning on Democracy Now!, explained the breadth of the Espionage statute, where the government does not have to prove either intent to aid the enemy, or actual aiding of the enemy, to convict Bradley of six espionage charges (which carry the death penalty, although the government says it is “only” seeking life in prison for Bradley). Chillingly, the government, in its opening statement yesterday, referred frequently to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, likely targets of prosecution. Assange wrote Monday on the “Kafkaesque” nature of the trial:
“It is fair to call what is happening to Bradley Manning a “show trial.” Those invested in what is called the “US military justice system” feel obliged to defend what is going on, but the rest of us are free to describe this travesty for what it is. No serious commentator has any confidence in a benign outcome. The pretrial hearings have comprehensively eliminated any meaningful uncertainty, inflicting pre-emptive bans on every defense argument that had any chance of success.
“Bradley Manning may not give evidence as to his stated intent (exposing war crimes and their context), nor may he present any witness or document that shows that no harm resulted from his actions. Imagine you were put on trial for murder. In Bradley Manning’s court, you would be banned from showing that it was a matter of self-defence, because any argument or evidence as to intent is banned. You would not be able to show that the ’victim’ is, in fact, still alive, because that would be evidence as to the lack of harm.”
The New York Times, finally reporting on the trial, related part of the opening arguments from Bradley’s attorney, David Coombs, explaining how Bradley was motivated to leak evidence of U.S. war crimes:
“Mr. Coombs said Private Manning started sending files to WikiLeaks later, in January 2010, after a roadside bombing in Iraq on Dec. 24, 2009. Everyone in his unit celebrated, Mr. Coombs said, after learning that no American troops had been seriously hurt, and their happiness did not abate — except for Private Manning’s — when they learned that members of an innocent Iraqi family had been injured and killed. From that moment, Mr. Coombs contended, things started to change and he soon “started selecting information he believed the public should see, should hear” and sending them to WikiLeaks.”
Many people have ordered Collateral Murder from us.
YOU MUST have this DVD and show it to others. Get it now.
I’ll be speaking at the rally for Bradley this Saturday June 1, two days before his trial begins. Join me at Ft. Meade, or find a solidarity rally near you.
On Wide Lens
Host Jolie Diane interviews Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait and Jeff Patterson of Courage to Resist about the actions and detention of Bradley Manning.
I was sitting in a Brooklyn court room last week, listening to police testify for prosecution of freedom fighters who protest NYPD stop-and-frisk. (Later that day charges were dropped by the judge). At the same moment, Bradley Manning was giving a first public statement on releasing documents on U.S. war crimes, including what came to be called the “Collateral Murder” video, the U.S. diplomatic cables, material on indefinite detention in Guantanamo, and Afghan War Diaries and Iraq War Log.
Manning accepted responsibility for some of the charges the US government has made, opening himself to two years prison on each of ten counts. What is most disturbing is the government’s intention to try him on June 1 for the remaining, more serious charges, and to ask for life in prison.
Monitoring my phone on breaks in the trial, we heard via Twitter that Bradley had tried the Washington Post, The New York Times, and Politico, before uploading the data to Wikileaks, with the urgent intent of getting the public in the U.S. to engage in a debate about war policy, based on knowing what their government is doing. Alexa O’Brien provided a transcript of the statement Bradley Manning made in military court last week, well worth reading through.
On Collateral Murder, he said of the U.S. military on the ground and in the Apache helicopter in 2007:
Preparations to rally at Ft. Meade, Maryland, site of the trial are being made now. The Bradley Manning Support Committee reports on international support actions February 23, 2013.
They 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.
What the video depicted was the truth of war. There were completely inhuman things—laughing about killing people, laughing about rolling over dead bodies with tanks. It was just abominable and reprehensible and sickening. When you watch it, it just makes you gasp to hear the language. But this is not an aberration. This is the truth of war. And that’s what we need to convey to people. What Bradley Manning did was a huge service to the world, to let people know the ugly, awful truth of war.
I have no doubt the government will continue to pile on Bradley Manning with all the force they have. That an Army private, so articulate, so clearly out for the benefit of humanity, as opposed to personal gain, could begin a mass public reaction that brought down reactionary governments in the Middle East, and expose the U.S. for its illegitimate use of military force the world over, is dangerous to them. Much more dangerous, than say, CIA torture of thousands or the destruction of whole countries.
Virtually no one is being prosecuted for those crimes; yet, Bradley Manning faces life in prison for exposing them.
Glenn Greenwald, on Democracy Now, captured a lot of what the US is doing to this person of great moral conscience:
This is a case of extraordinary prosecutorial overkill. The government has never been able to identify any substantial harm that has come from any of the leaks that Bradley Manning is accused of and now admits to being responsible for. Certainly nobody has died as a result of these leaks, even though the government originally said that WikiLeaks and the leaker has blood on their hands. Journalists investigated and found that there was no evidence for that. So, just the very idea that he should spend decades in prison, let alone be faced with life on parole, given what it is that he actually did and the consequences of it, is really remarkable.
But even more specifically, the theory that the government is proceeding on is one that’s really quite radical and menacing. That is, that although he never communicated with, quote-unquote, “the enemy,” which the government has said is al-Qaeda, although there’s no evidence that he intended in any way to benefit al-Qaeda—he could have sold this information, made a great deal of money, had he wanted to. All the evidence indicates that he did it for exactly the reason that he said, with the intent that he said, which was to spark reform and to bring attention to these abuse…
In the chat logs that were published over a year ago with the government informant who turned him in, he said very much the same thing while he thought he was speaking in complete confidence, to somebody who had promised him confidentiality, about what led him on this path, that he had become disillusioned first about the Iraq war when he discovered that people they were detaining weren’t really insurgents but were simply opponents of the Maliki government, and he brought it to his superiors, and they ignored him. He then looked at documents that showed extreme amounts of criminality and deceit and violence, that he could no longer in good conscience participate in concealing. It was really an act of conscience, pure conscience and heroism, that he did, knowing he was sacrificing his liberty.
The government has insulated its conduct from what are supposed to be the legitimate means of accountability and transparency—judicial proceedings, media coverage, FOIA requests—and has really erected this impenetrable wall of secrecy, using what are supposed to be the institutions designed to prevent that. That is what makes whistleblowing all the more imperative. It really is the only remaining avenue that we have to learn about what the government is doing
Speaking for thousands of us who have protested Manning’s trial, from signing petitions to civil disobedience, I think we can say with even more determination now, after hearing him, “FREE Bradley Manning!”
It’s election time, and our problem, as people who care about humanity, is not that the Democratic Party is likely to lose big at the polls. Our problem is that the crimes of our government continue under the Democrats, and far too few of the millions in this country who know this are acting to stop these crimes by independent, mass action.
Case: October 2nd. As thousands of people streamed towards the One Nation Working Together rally at the Lincoln Memorial, they saw a bright orange banner with the words “War Crimes Must Be Stopped – No Matter Who Does Them!” In the crowd of union workers, teachers, and progressive minded people brought to Washington by the NAACP and unions, they might have just nodded agreement, or shaken their heads at the mugshot of George Bush on the banner.
But next to the image of Bush on that banner is a mugshot of Barack Obama. This stopped many hundreds of people to take photos and gather around. The World Can’t Wait supporters, some wearing orange jumpsuits to symbolize the indefinite detention and torture still going on at Guantanamo, distributed thousands of flyers detailing a few of the war crimes in 2010, and struggled ably and with persistence, over what the facts are. Some who stopped agreed that the image was truthful, shaking their heads over how disappointed they are with the Democrats. But, of those who stopped, more disagreed, and some were disbelieving or angry at the comparison. “You can’t say that about Obama! Obama wouldn’t do any of those things! You should have been out here when Bush started it! You’re just helping the Tea Party!”
Case: October 7th: On the ninth anniversary of the day the Bush regime sent US forces to invade Afghanistan, World Can’t Wait ran an ad in The New York Times. “Crimes are Crimes – No Matter Who Does Them!” it said, “End the silence of complicity,” with three examples from 2010 of how the Obama administration is “in some respects, worse than Bush:”
“Obama has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens whom he suspects of “terrorism,” merely on the grounds of his own suspicion or that of the CIA, something Bush never claimed publicly. Second, Obama says that the government can detain you indefinitely, even if you have been exonerated in a trial, and he has publicly floated the idea of “preventive detention.” Third, the Obama administration, in expanding the use of unmanned drone attacks, argues that the U.S. has the authority under international law to use such lethal force and extrajudicial killing in sovereign countries with which it is not at war.” The ad was signed by an impressive list including Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Cindy Sheehan, Mark Ruffalo, Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges, and Roseanne Barr.
When World Can’t Wait ran seven full page ads in The New York Times and USA Today during the Bush years, calling for a mass movement to “Drive Out the Bush Regime,” the response was strong and immediate, with hundreds calling, donating and volunteering. Then, the campaign and election of Barack Obama sucked in much of the leadership and base of the mass anti-war movement. The effect of that has been to demobilize, confuse, and silence many. We knew this ad would get a different response, but also, we know that a minority of that movement is really deeply angry to the point of feeling betrayed by Obama. So we expected that the appearance of such a message in The New York Times would polarize and challenge readers, drawing a strong response.
We did this statement, and continue to push out with its content because:
People have been lied to, and are not paying attention. Many people don’t get the truth from mainstream media. World Can’t Wait puts priority on going out to people way beyond the “movement,” so we know that huge numbers of people are bombarded in the media with everything but the truth about the crimes of our government. From National Public Radio to every commercial network, magazine and blog, people get a version of the “official story” which leaves out what the US is really doing in the world. The destruction of Iraqi and Afghani society is systematically portrayed as “bringing democracy.” The photos from Abu Ghraib, which many people vaguely remember from 2004, were never fully released, nor was the story followed. The Obama administration refused to release the rest of those photos in 2009, because they had such a devastating effect on people’s opinion of the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq. So, people who don’t seek out the reality tell us things like, “Obama’s for peace. He ended the war, and closed Guantánamo.”
Willful “ignore-ance.” A donor to the ad wrote that she has “very few friends left” because of her criticism of Obama as not bringing change for the better. “I can’t tell you how much it means to mean to know there is a group espousing what I have been saying to my 250 people email list since right after Obama was elected and I noted who he was putting in his administration. Your ‘Crimes are Crimes…’ is the sad reality that so many do not want to face which I see as the reason for the lack of a real movement at the moment.”
I am reminded of what Bob Avakian, the revolutionary communist leader, writes about the problem of people “living in the house of Tony Soprano,” not wanting to know how all the “goodies” in the house were acquired. In that case, Avakian says, we have a responsibility to challenge them:
“There is a place where epistemology and morality meet. There is a place where you have to stand and say: It is not acceptable to refuse to look at something—or to refuse to believe something—because it makes you uncomfortable. And: It is not acceptable to believe something just because it makes you feel comfortable.”
Noam Chomsky, in a video on why he signed the Crimes are Crimes statement, referenced Judge Robert Jackson’s writing in the Nuremberg principles on war crimes, and put the challenge this way: “The principle of universality holds whatever the scale of the crimes, those who rightly condemned the crimes of George W. Bush should be judged by history and by their own consciences by how well they apply the same principles to his successors.”
The “politics of the possible” preclude any criticism of Obama, because he’s being attacked from the right. Even people who are very critical of the Obama administration and the Democrats repeat the mantra that if the Democrats “lose” Congress, things will be “worse.” This is not a “spontaneous” response, by the way. In the last 24 hours, the Obama campaign has sent out mass emails urging people to “get into the game” to “fight as hard as we ever have” against “special interests who want to put their conservative allies in control of Congress.”
OH NO! Like, the war in Afghanistan might be expanded; Guantánamo won’t be closed; the government’s powers to spy on the people via the Patriot Act and FBI raids would increase? Threats to Iran, support for the deadly siege on Gaza, subsidies to major banks would flow while 15 million people are out of work? There might be NO progress on stopping global warming? “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will stay in effect? The Supreme Court would find corporations are people entitled to give election money, but not people who can be held liable for human rights atrocities? All that might happen if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are replaced with Republicans?
The situation is so much worse than that. The Democrats have firmly united behind the illegitimate so-called “War on Terror,” and have done terrible crimes based on the conferred “legitimacy” of the first African American president. And the right-wing threat is not from “special interests” but from a hard core of the ruling class who challenge even the legitimacy of Obama as president, and are seeking to remake the cohering norms of US society with a program of aggressive war on the world, racist attacks on immigrants, suppression of the rights of the people to unfettered capitalism, Christian theocracy, and suppression of science, all of which the Democratic Party capitulates and will not fight because they basically agree. The right has a mobilized, armed, racist base, in the form of the Tea Party movement, which is scary. And they have the political initiative. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to stand up against the Tea Party – it’s that they are being told to seek common ground and terrible compromises with that reactionary agenda.
Many people, in that crowd of people who attended the “One Nation” rally are deeply shaken and frustrated that the change they worked for in 2008 not only didn’t happen, but things are worse. What they got at the rally was speaker after speaker telling them that the “protest march” they came to make against the Tea Party – and also against the Obama policies that haven’t brought they change they hoped for – will only happen on November 2 when they “march” to the polls. Clearly, the Democrats didn’t want that rally to happen, as almost no politicians participated, but still, people were led to come begging from a party that wants them only to shut up and get out the vote.
Expecting change through the framework of elections when the game is rigged is delusional. It’s the same old trap every two years. Get in the game?? When the Democrats are out of power, it’s “get us back so we can deliver change”, and when they are in power, it’s the threat of how much worse it will be if they lose. This is not the game we need to be in.
“Worse” than under Bush? Many people still active against the wars and torture point out that, if McCain had ordered an expansion of the war in Afghanistan, there would have been much more visible protest. As the Crimes are Crimes statement puts it, “Such measures by Bush were widely considered by liberals and progressives to be outrages and were roundly, and correctly, protested. But those acts which may have been construed (wishfully or not) as anomalies under the Bush regime, have now been consecrated into “standard operating procedure” by Obama, who claims, as did Bush, executive privilege and state secrecy in defending the crime of aggressive war.
A woman wrote to thank World Can’t Wait for getting the Crimes are Crimes message “past the gatekeepers of the mainstream press.” In describing why she donated to the ad, she explained that, as a progressive, she had voted for Obama, even though she knew he wouldn’t bring change. But, it’s worse than she expected. “Instead of surrounding himself with progressives, he surrounded himself with reactionaries. Instead of looking for creative ways to disengage our country from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he relied on good old-fashioned ways to keep those wars going with American troops as “advisers” and mercenaries as contract killers. Worst of all, perhaps, as you point out, is his refusal (and that of Nancy Pelosi) to bring to justice those who lied to us about WMDs and who finalized the unleashing of greedy corporate monsters on the world, an unleashing begun under Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush and his accomplices are murderers but instead of the harsh punishments dealt out to street thugs, they have been richly rewarded for their criminal acts.”
One ad does not make a movement, nor does one voice, nor a series of protests. But the importance and achievement of hundreds donating, and thousands signing this statement appearing in the “paper of record” has to be appreciated for the strong statement of principle that it is – and then we need to go out and amplify this message. This is the time for fearless truth-telling, on a bigger stage, and more visibly.
If people don’t know what their government is doing – or think the problem is that Obama’s a socialist, the immigrants are taking “our jobs” or such nonsense — we need to tell them, and not get quiet if they disagree. We need to show them Collateral Murder, important because it shows the US military killing Iraqi civilians and because soldiers have come forward to condemn those acts. We need energy and effort behind speaking the truth and mobilizing people to act on it, despite its popularity at any given moment. “History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious.” Write to me with your thoughts and ideas for spreading this challenging message boldly – in the spirit of not silencing ourselves when people disagree.
World Can’t Wait is unique in saying in what we’re saying and in going out very widely to people with that message. We know there are people that agree and thank us for being willing to speak the unpopular truths that need to be said and to organize the protests, educational forums, and public statements like The New York Times ad, but there needs to be more of this. Those of you that do get it, those of you that were moved by the ad, who agonize over these continuing crimes, have a disproportionate responsibility to go out and change people’s minds.
There is much more to do. Funds are needed to print the Crimes are Crimes ad more widely, produce more DVD copies of Collateral Murder, and to webcast World Can’t Wait’s national broadcast of October 20: Stop the Crimes of Our Government: Collateral Murder & Targeted Assassination with Ethan McCord and Pardiss Kebriaei, and to bring veterans and activists with the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour to high schools.
Friday, October 8, 2010 the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights filed a response to the Obama administration on behalf of Nasser al-Aulaqi, the father of Anwar al-Aulaqi, targeted for assassination by Barack Obama. The administration argues for the dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds of “national security:”
“The government’s brief seeking the dismissal of this case runs to nearly sixty pages but can be summed up in a single sentence: No court should have any role in establishing or enforcing legal limitations on the executive’s authority to use lethal force against U.S. citizens whom the executive has unilaterally determined to pose a threat to the nation. The government has clothed its bid for unchecked authority in the doctrinal language of standing, justiciability, equity, and secrecy, but the upshot of its arguments is that the executive, which must obtain judicial approval to monitor a U.S. citizen’s communications or search his briefcase, may execute that citizen without any obligation to justify its actions to a court or to the public.”
History will judge our actions – or silence – in the face of this.
The award-winning documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” was shown today by Resistance Cinema and will be shown twice more in the next few weeks. The film chronicles Ellsberg’s transition from a war hawk to a principled critic who risked prison to spread the truth about US-Vietnam relations.
The release of the Pentagon Papers can be compared, indeed should be compared, with Wikileaks’ recent release of the Afghan war logs: new revelations, smear campaigns, state suppression, and a complex role by corporate media.
The next showing of the Ellsberg film is at 7:00 pm, Monday, September 20 at the Conference Room, NYU Dept of Sociology, the Puck Building at 295 Lafayette St. (at Houston), 4th Floor, and will be free and open to the public (with photo ID). Another showing will be on PBS October 5.
World Can’t Wait will follow up the NYU event by showing “Collateral Murder” outdoors in Washington Square Park following the Ellsberg film.
It is important that as many people as possible see the video–to reach beyond the internet. A specific purpose of the showing is to Support Bradley Manning, accused of leaking the video on which “Collateral Murder” is based. Brad is currently in the brig at Quantico, VA and is faced with a court martial for being a hero, as great or greater than Ellsberg–for these are different times. He will surely face prison if the charges against him are sustained.
World Can’t Wait showed “Collateral Murder” indoors last Thursday, on that very stormy night. The crowd was small but EVERYONE said how important it was to see it. It is video to see with others–to discuss its implications, and to provide finacial and moral support for Brad.
We had a lively conference call this past week (apologies to everyone who couldn’t get on or got bumped off due to the number of calls coming in) with people from around the country listening to a conversation between Elaine Brower, leader of WCW, and Josh Steiber, conscientious objector who has been speaking out about being a part of the unit that carried out the now notorious massacre captured in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video. Josh refused to go on that mission and later, as Janis Joplin sang, felt he had “nothing left to lose” after so many atrocities, fighting to get out of the military because he “was so internally torn up that I was at a point that I was willing to do whatever I needed to in order to stop doing these things.”
Now, he is righteously calling out this whole immoral war and using the video to make the point that
such acts were “not isolated incidents” and were “common” during his tour of duty. “After watching the video, I would definitely say that that is, nine times out of ten, the way things ended up,” Steiber was quoted as saying in an earlier press release on the video, “Killing was following military protocol. It was going along with the rules as they are.”
Steiber was not with his unit, who were the soldiers on the ground in the video. He was back at his base with the incident occurred. While not absolving of responsibility those who carried out the killing, Steiber blames the “larger system” of the US military, specifically how soldiers are trained to dehumanize Iraqis and the ROE.
“We have to address the larger system that trains people to respond in this way, or the same thing will probably happen again,” Steiber told Truthout.
Josh Steiber has been speaking out in other places too. Listen to or read his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Elaine asked Josh about how he became a conscientious objector, and how we can get more troops to take that step and resist the military. Josh talked about the responsibility that this society as a whole has for what the US military does and how it does it. Educating people is the key, he said. He talked about the military cadences that troops learn in basic training: songs about killing children and blood flowing. Target practice not on bull’s-eyes, but on the silhouettes of Middle Eastern stereotypes.
For him, it took 2 years before he even found out that conscientious objecting was an option at all.
“There’s a lot of feeling of betrayal, that we can tap into,”
with the troops, he said. To understand the psychology drummed into troops he recommended this video on YouTube, “Die Terrorist Die.” He also recommended that we use the Wikileaks video to show potential recruits what exactly they will be expected to do in the military.
Callers expressed anguish over the situation and the depths of the moral dilemma facing this society. One woman talked about her fears that people are just filtering out the video and that it isn’t necessarily affecting people. Another talked about counter protesting the Tea Party earlier in the day and having conversations with them:
“I don’t fall into this category and probably those of you on the call don’t, but there’s this mentality out there that brutal violence is just a part of humanity and we just have to make sure that it’s OUR brutal violence and no one does it to us.”
She also emphasized how important it is that some troops are speaking out; changing their views, resisting, and leaking these videos.
A Vietnam era veteran on the call said,
“Moments come along that break through the media blackout, like with the photo of the little Vietnamese girl who got napalmed, that give people a taste of the crimes that are being carried out in their names. We have to challenge the troops not to be torturers and murders. Josh talked a lot about betrayal. It’s not the people who betrayed the soldiers it’s the military and the government that betrayed them. The more we can interact with them on that level the more we can break through with them.”
Emma Kaplan underscored this point, responding to the question, “How did the soldiers react after the mission in the video:”
“Josh talks about this in his DN interview – afterwards there’s a process where it sinks in, and they go through a justification in their minds. The point about challenging the troops that Joe made is very important. Troops are thinking people who can change their minds and resist. We have a tremendous responsibility to tell the truth.”
We talked more about the need to go into the morality of the war and the participation in it with soldiers:
“Male bonding forges this brainwashing family structure. It is really difficult. The family structure just constantly reinforces the idea that if you step out of line here that you are betraying your brothers. We have to frame the question in moral terms so that they can truly follow their consciences. The really important thing that WCW is doing is going into high schools and colleges and creating a movement among the youth. Denying the military a section of these kids. Youth can have a tremendous impact among their peers.”
A student from UCSB talked about the speakout they held on their campus earlier that day, and their plans to project the video onto a wall outside on Monday. They also plan to bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour to speak before the end of the semester.
The call ended with some more discussion of our plans going forward: the Crimes Are Crimes statement, visible protest such as when General Petraeus comes to NYC later this week, and other ideas people have, for creating video responses to the Wikileaks video, to talking to soldiers.
The We Are Not Your Soldiers tour came up again and again, as a crucial way to impact this situation. One person said,
“It’s not just a point of going to the troops themselves, but making it a question in society at large. Dragging it out into the light of day. This is not just bad apples but what the troops are doing in our name. This is the nature of this war. The more we make this a question in society, that will give the troops who are conflicted air to breathe and room to act.”
Thank you to Josh Steiber and everyone who participated in this call.