Chelsea Manning 13: Iraq 3

The relief that Chelsea says she felt after handing over the SIGACT records to Wikileaks seems to have been accompanied by a surge of determination and courage. In any case, during the weeks following her return to FOB Hammer, she sent more and more classified information to Wikileaks.

The first document she sent did not concern Iraq at all. It was about events in a completely different, and peaceful, part of the world, and the information did not come from SIGACT tables but from diplomatic cables. As Chelsea explains in her pre-trial statement, she had been taught during her training at Fort Huachuca that diplomatic cables were often a useful source for intelligence analysts. So she would not have been surprised when, in December 2009, all the analysts at FOB Hammer received an e-mail giving them a link to a government “portal” that allowed them to access such cables. As Chelsea puts it, the analysts were instructed “to look at the cables … and incorporate them into [their] work product.” (8,17) Shortly after this instruction was received, Chelsea found that diplomatic cables were being sent to her and the other analysts from higher-level Army intelligence centers in Iraq. Speaking of this period in her pre-trial statement, she says:

I read virtually every published cable concerning Iraq. I also began scanning the database and reading other random cables that piqued my curiosity.(8,17)

Even before she left Iraq on her mid-tour leave, Chelsea had begun looking for information about Iceland in these cables. She had got interested in Iceland because on the WikiLeaks chat lines she had been following, she had noticed a lot of discussion of an issue referred to as “Icesave.” At first she hadn’t understood just what “Icesave” was, but by searching on the internet, she found that the term referred to a dispute between Iceland, the UK, and the Netherlands.

concerning the financial collapse of one or more of Iceland’s banks. According to open source reports, much of the public controversy involved the UK’s use of “anti-terrorism legislation” in order to freeze Icelandic assets for payment of the guarantees for UK depositors that lost money.(8,17)

Soon after Chelsea returned from mid-tour leave, she found a diplomatic cable concerning “Icesave:”. It had been published a few weeks earlier, in mid-January.

I read the cable and quickly concluded that Iceland was essentially being bullied, diplomatically, by two larger European powers. It appeared to me that Iceland was out of viable solutions, and was now coming to the US for assistance. Despite their quiet request for help, it did not appear we were going to do anything. From my perspective it appeared we were not getting involved due to lack of long term geopolitical benefit to do so. (8,18)

Chelsea then goes on to explain that after thinking about the cable for a while, she decided to send it to WikiLeaks. They had not published — or even acknowledged receiving — the SIGACT tables she had sent them from Washington and so, as she says, she did not know if they would regard the tables as a “priority.” She was quite sure however they would want to publish the cable about Iceland.

I decided the cable was something that would be important, and I felt I might be able to right a wrong by having them publish this document.(8,18)

But Chelsea had another motive, besides wanting to “right a wrong.” She continues:

I burned the information onto a CD-RW on 15 February 2010, took it to my Containerized Housing Unit and saved it onto my personal laptop. I navigated to the WikiLeaks website…and uploaded the document via the secure form. Amazingly, the WLO published [the cable] within hours, proving that the form worked and they must have received the SIGACT tables.(8,18)

This episode, as described by Chelsea is illuminating for several reasons. In the first place, it shows that even after several years in the US Army, she retained a strong sense of justice and a determination to speak out against injustice. It also shows how naive Chelsea still was: she believed that a single individual might be able to change the behavior of a powerful nation. And it shows, too, that she had left behind the misgiving and confusion she had had to overcome before uploading the SIGACT tables. She had, it seems, become almost nonchalant about doing what she thought to be her duty: releasing secret information about US military operations to the rest of the world.

Not long after she uploaded the “Icesave” cable, Chelsea discovered the document which would, more than any of the others she released, have an impact on the general public. It was especially powerful because it was not a written text of any kind but an uncensored video and its power increased later on when it was given context by independent reports and testimonies. Chelsea sent the video to WikiLeaks, “on or around” February 21. On April 5 two versions were published by WikiLeaks. One, which was named “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks but which will be referred to here as “the Baghdad video,” is seventeen minutes long; the second version is thirty-nine minutes. According to the Wikipedia article on Chelsea, the Baghdad video has been watched online “millions” of times. (1; 24)

The Baghdad video was filmed, on July 12, 2007 through the gunsights of a 30 millimeter “cannon” onboard an Apache helicopter. The video shows a group of about ten men moving through a square in an area Baghdad known as “New Baghdad”. They are behaving very casually and are dressed in ordinary clothes. At least half the men in the group are apparently carrying nothing. The video is not particularly sharp but according to expert analysis one of the men is carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and the other a rocket propelled grenade. Two men, who turned out to be photographers for Reuters, are carrying photographic equipment, one has a telephoto lens, the other a camera. According to the Army, the photographic equipment was mistaken for weaponry by the soldiers in the helicopter. One of the photographers was still alive after the attack and can be seen trying to crawl to safety after the shooting stops.(24)

When the shooting stops one of the men is still alive and can be seen trying to crawl to safety. While he is struggling to get away, a van arrives. Two men jump out of the van and go to his aid. They pick him up and carry him to the van. They manage to get the injured man inside but before they can get back inside themselves, more shots are fired from the helicopter. The two men try to run to shelter, but they are immediately shot dead. Later, it was learned that the originally injured man, was the Reuters photographer, Chmagh Saeed. He also died as the result of wounds suffered in the attack, as did the van’s driver. When US ground troops arrived on the scene after the fighting had stopped they discovered two injured children. One, a girl, had a stomach wound and glass in her eyes. The other, a boy had a head injury. Their father had been driving them to school when he came across the aftermath of the first attack.(24)

A great deal of controversy followed the release of this video on WikiLeaks. The US Army claimed that the video was misleading because it gave the impression that the attacks had been an isolated incident. They insisted that in fact, they had been part of a larger battle in which an American armored vehicle — a “Humvee” — had been attacked by insurgents and that the helicopter had been called in as part of a rescue attempt. On the other hand, the Reuters news agency — the employer of the two photographers — stated that they had been told by local police that the attack was a “random American bombardment.” Reuters also stated that they could find no witnesses who had seen armed men in the area of the shooting and they complained that the photographers’ cameras were confiscated by the Americans and that they were not allowed to access the “on-board footage and voice communications” from the helicopter.(24)

Whatever the truth may be about exactly what happened in New Baghdad on July 12, 2007 — and that may never be known — what Chelsea says about the video in her pre-trial statement has an importance of its own. Even if the US Army’s version of the events is entirely accurate, her comments on the video are an illuminating record of her thoughts and emotions. They are the subject of the following section.