This letter is being sent to PFC Bradley Manning at the following prison address in Kuwait. For obvious reasons, I’ve left my return address off this posting.
Inmate PFC Bradley Manning
TFCF – Theater Field Confinement Facility
APO AE 09366 USA
Dear PFC Manning:
The New York Times just reported on 92,000 classified military field reports from Afghanistan that graphically underscore what a demoralizing mess that war is. The leaked material has stirred new opposition in Congress to funding the war, and WikiLeaks is now seen by many as a much needed instrument to crack open the grip that secrecy has on the truth in America.
On the other side, there are powerful enemies. General James Mattis told a Senate confirmation hearing for his new job as Commander of Central Command that the leak was “an appalling act.” But then he assured the senators the leak revealed “nothing new.”
The point is such leaks are finally fueling robust debate over the war in Afghanistan. And the leak you are alleged to have made that resulted in WikiLeak’s web video “Collateral Murder” was the beginning of it all.
I’m a veteran who worked in radio intelligence in Vietnam. I was a radio direction finder in the Army Security Agency, the service wing of the National Security Agency. The ASA was disbanded in 1973, and its activities were assumed by various intelligence commands.
Like you, I volunteered to join the military, in my case, at age eighteen, seven days after my high school graduation. My job in the ASA was to locate enemy radio operators with a WWII era box & antenna called a PRD-1. We mounted it on a jeep and set up next to villages or off the road; sometimes, we put the PRD-1 on top of an armored personnel carrier and crashed through the woods finding high ground, and a few times we were dropped on mountaintops with a squad of grunts to protect our rear-echelon butts. We had three such teams and triangulated our bearings on a map.
Sometimes we located a unit by tracking its roving radio operator over time. A lot of times, of course, our intelligence was faulty. One, the large mountains played hell with radio signals, and, two, there was always operator error. The fact is, we were kids and we really didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We did the best we could. But, as you know, that’s how war works.
All the screw-ups tend to be forgotten, or, if they’re really serious and involve lives, classified.
There I was, a kid just out of high school, being flown around on choppers with no doors over amazing expanses of jungle. I’ll never forget the sensually winding Se San River that looked in the dawn sunlight magically like a shimmering golden snake. I was in awe. But, the truth be known, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing there or why Vietnamese kids just like me were trying to kill me, and me them.
The technology has changed, but we’re still fed so much bullshit as we grow up. We each so want to fit in and to be a man, and all that crap. But for some of us, after following all the rules and staying within the lines, one day it dawns on us: what we’re involved in doesn’t make any sense. We’re smack in the middle of it, we’re smart and we realize we’re part of something based on lies told to cover up other lies and screw-ups and embarrassments – all to keep the war going.
It’s so big, if you question it, you don’t stand a chance.
In my case, that realization came after I was out of the service and home, where I was safe. In your case, it seems to have come while you were in the midst of all the madness — where you are not safe. In fact, you are in grave peril and at the mercy of a vast military and political machine much more sophisticated, secret and insidious in its practices than the military I served in 40 years ago.
I’ve been a member of Veterans For Peace for 25 years. Many members like me are in full support of you, and we will be discussing your case at our August convention. We need to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds your case and, equally, the secrecy that keeps images and information on how we fight our wars from the American people who pay for them and in whose name they are fought.
Daniel Ellsberg was made famous for revealing the secret history of the Vietnam War in the so-called Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg has honored you. “He is the first person in 39 years to do something comparable to what I did — and really better than what I did, because it’s current.” Ellsberg said that about you.
What was so troubling for the military about the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video clearly had nothing to do with security or the safety of your fellow soldiers. The “secret” was the adrenaline-pumped eagerness of the Apache gunners to kill an unarmed neighborhood man trying to help two Reuters cameramen and others gunned down by a previous burst of Apache fire.
When the Apache pilot and gunner realize they have grievously wounded two children they try to cover their guilt by snickering and commenting on the tape that the Iraqi they just killed should not have “brought his kids to a battle.” Their delusion is evident to anyone watching the video. The fact is, for the neighborhood man they just killed, it wasn’t a battle; he was just picking up the pieces from the previous shooting.
It’s all in the video, and it’s not something the Pentagon or the White House wants American tax-payers to see. The engagement in this video is not about democracy, “nation building” or helping Iraqis improve their lives. It’s about a lopsided kind of killing – like shooting fish in a barrel.
The shame and embarrassment factor is why this video was classified “secret.” There’s no good reason why the American people should not see such video material. The fact that videos like this make it harder to defend and fund the war is not a good reason to censor it.
As is the military’s inclination these days, you are being held in an extreme and rigidly controlled manner, with everything directed at weakening you and making it very difficult to impossible for anyone other than your jailers and interrogators to contact you.
We have been told WikiLeaks arranged for civilian attorneys to help you with your case. But there is a question whether these attorneys have been allowed to contact you or even whether you have been informed of their existence.
Of course, it may be naïve of me to think this letter will even be allowed to reach you.
You are an American citizen, you deserve your day in court and you deserve a fair trial. You also deserve the right to make a robust case that what you allegedly did was in the service of truth, just as much as was Daniel Ellsberg’s act in 1971 and just as much as was the leaking of the 92,000 Afghanistan field reports. As prevailed in the Ellsberg case, the needs of the American people for truth in the service of democracy must also be recognized at your trial.
Many Americans are fed up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and with the incredible regime of secrecy that currently exists in this country. American democracy requires the truth, and you are a courageous part of that process. More Americans need to be aware of you sitting in your cell in Kuwait, as they also need to become more involved in the debate over truth and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stay strong. If you get this letter and can write back, please let me and others know how you are and what we can do to help you.
Yours in solidarity,
NOTE: Readers are encouraged to write PFC Bradley Manning at the APO address above. You can find other ways to help Manning by going to the Help Bradley Manning website.