American Crime Case #23: The Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs and the Persecution of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks

Bob Avakian has written that one of three things that has “to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better: People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.” (See “3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better.”)

In that light, and in that spirit, “American Crime” is a regular feature of revcom.us. Each installment focuses on one of the 100 worst crimes committed by the U.S. rulers—out of countless bloody crimes they have carried out against people around the world, from the founding of the U.S. to the present day.

See all the articles in this series.

killed_by_us_afghanistan-2009-RAWA-600px.jpg

 

Afghan villagers sit near the bodies of 11 civilians killed during a U.S. air strike in Kunar province April 7, 2013.  The U.S. military has jargon for this crime: a “blue-on-white” incident is where soldiers killed civilians. (Photo: RAWA)

THE CRIME

In July 2010, WikiLeaks,1 working with a number of major mainstream media outlets including the New York Times and the Guardian, published 77,000 classified U.S. military documents chronicling incidents in the U.S. war in Afghanistan from 2004 through 2009. Then in October, it published another 392,000 classified documents detailing U.S. military actions in the Iraq war, also from 2004 through 2009. All these documents and more were sent to WikiLeaks by U.S. Army whistleblower Private Chelsea Manning.

These reports were written by U.S. military personnel—so some facts and descriptions in them may be skewed, incomplete, censored, or covered up. But they were never meant to become public. And they graphically indicate the depth and extent of mass murder of civilians, torture, and war crimes carried out by U.S. forces under George W. Bush and Barack Obama in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Obama administration immediately responded to the publication of the war logs by launching an intensive hunt for the whistleblower who leaked the documents and a global campaign to take down WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Chelsea Manning was eventually arrested, tried in a military court and sentenced to 35 years in prison—the longest sentence ever given a whistleblower. Her sentence was commuted in 2017—but only after she had spent seven years in prison, 11 months of it in 23-hours-a-day isolation that a UN Special Rapporteur on torture deemed “cruel and inhumane.” She was denied critically needed medical care related to being a transgender woman.

Assange’s arrest on April 10, 2019 in London—after being forced out of the Ecuadorian embassy where he had been granted asylum and stayed for the last seven years—is a dangerous leap in the campaign of persecution initiated by Obama and escalated under the Trump/Pence fascist regime. And it goes along with the continuing persecution of Manning, who was jailed for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury investigating Assange.

The following gives a sense of what WikiLeaks revealed.

Afghanistan War Logs, 2004-2009

According to Assange, “20,000 lives that have been lost in Afghanistan [are] documented and exposed by our material.” They include accounts of what, in military jargon, are called “blue-on-white” incidents—in which soldiers wound or kill civilians. Some examples:

  • Coalition soldiers fired into a bus full of children, wounding eight. A U.S. patrol machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers. Other soldiers mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.
  • A group of U.S. Marines went on a shooting rampage after coming under attack near Jalalabad—19 unarmed civilians were killed and 50 were wounded. The troops recorded false information on the incident.
  • U.S. Special Forces dropped six 2,000-pound bombs on a compound where they believed a “high-value individual” was hiding after supposedly “ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area.” A senior U.S. commander reported that 150 Taliban had been killed. But local people reported that up to 300 civilians had died.

Iraq War Logs, 2004-2009

  • The war logs revealed at least 105,000 Iraqis had been killed just between 2004 and 2009—66,000 of them civilians, including hundreds killed at U.S. checkpoints. This was at least 15,000 more people than the military had ever publicly reported.2
  • A video leaked by Manning, titled Collateral Murder, shows a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad. U.S. forces massacred 12 civilians and wounded two children, chatting, sometimes laughing as they fired. They opened fire on a group of 7-8 – “all right – ha ha -- I hit ‘em….oh yeah look at those dead bastards” – then fired on people trying to put the victims in a van – “you should have a van in the middle of the road with 12-15 bodies…oh yeah, right through the windshield – ha ha.” After a U.S. tank rolled over one of the Iraqi victims, cutting him in half – “I think they just drove over a body…Really?..[laughing]…Yeah.”
  • The U.S. claimed it didn’t torture, but the logs revealed the U.S. military issued an order in July 2004 directing U.S. forces not to investigate any breaches of “military conduct” unless U.S. troops and those of its “coalition” were “directly involved.” This was a green light to encourage Iraqi forces to do the torturing for the U.S., which refused “to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.”
  • The WikiLeaks files reveal that prisoners were also routinely burned with cigarettes, electrocuted, raped, and beaten with any available implement, such as steel rods, wire cables, television antennas, chains, water pipes, fan belts, and rubber hoses, as well as fists and feet. Some were executed, but the U.S. never punished Iraqi forces for carrying out such tortures. Instead, U.S. military interrogators used “deliberate threats” to turn prisoners “over to the Iraqi ‘Wolf Brigade.’” One interrogator told a prisoner that “he would be subject to all the pain and agony that the Wolf battalion is known to exact upon its detainees.”
Title screen: Collateral Murder

 

One video leaked by Manning, which has been titled Collateral Murder, shows a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad in which U.S. forces massacred 12 civilians and wounded two children. (Source: Wikileaks.) Click here to view.

THE CRIMINALS

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and their administrations, which carried out the war crimes and crimes against humanity exposed by Manning and WikiLeaks.

President Barack Obama, who claimed, “The fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan,” and went on to claim that the “new strategy” the U.S. developed would address them. Meanwhile, his administration unleashed a furious investigation to find and arrest the whistleblower who leaked the war logs. And after Manning was identified as the whistleblower and imprisoned, Obama declared her guilty before she’d even gone to trial. At the same time, the U.S. launched a full-court press of repression, threats, deceit, and manipulation to silence Assange and shut down WikiLeaks, even though they had not been charged with a crime. The attacks included being “removed from the Internet ... their funds have been frozen ... media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization.”3 (Democracy Now!, December 7, 2010)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned “in the most clear terms” the leaks of any documents, which she claimed put Americans at risk—this was part of the global effort to take down WikiLeaks.

The Pentagon claimed releasing secret military documents could endanger U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. General James Mattis denounced WikiLeaks: “I just thought it was a—just an appallingly irresponsible act to release this information. It didn’t tell us anything, that I’ve seen so far, that we weren’t already aware of.”

The Trump/Pence regime escalated this assault and moved to arrest Assange—which Obama had felt he needed to avoid (even as he tried other means to silence Assange, who was forced in 2012 to seek asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, where he was confined until his arrest). In 2017, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said, WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.” The regime then filed an indictment on March 6, 2018, charging Assange under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The indictment alleges that Assange was part of a conspiracy to access a computer without authorization in order to obtain classified information that “could be used to the injury of the United States.”

THE ALIBI

On one hand, the U.S. rulers attempted to downplay the extent of what WikiLeaks exposed. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the documents were “essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.” At the same time, they claimed the leaks endangered their personnel and interests. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Assange and his sources “might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” Others claimed the leaks could lead to military and civilian deaths.

The Trump/Pence regime now claims Assange isn’t a journalist but a non-state hostile intelligence service.

THE REAL MOTIVE

Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks’ courageous release of the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs (along with some 250,000 secret State Department cables) has been very damaging to the U.S. imperialists because they provide vivid, direct, and unassailable evidence that the U.S. routinely carries out all manner of crimes across the world, from torture and rape in Afghanistan to mass murder in Yemen and illegal spying at UN headquarters. They document how the U.S. manages a global network of brutal client regimes as key links in their empire of oppression and exploitation. These secret cables show that the U.S. lies about all of it. And the U.S. can’t simply end such practices: war crimes, torture, and oppression are built into the way U.S. imperialism and its military operate around the world.

The U.S. claims that Manning and WikiLeaks endangered lives. But an analysis of the WikiLeaks cables reveals that what is being threatened is the ability of U.S. operatives—people who have orchestrated great crimes—to endanger and kill people around the world in service of U.S. dominance.

For the imperialists, secrecy is essential because everything they’re doing is unjust and against the interests of the vast majority of humanity. In their own home base, secrecy is extremely important for the imperialists to keep broad sections of the population in a state of blissful ignorance and complacency about what the U.S. is actually doing around the world (coupled with fear that any link to criticizing the U.S. could open people to persecution) and to minimize opposition and resistance.

At the same time, the WikiLeak’ed documents and cables that Manning provided also show that far from being omnipotent “masters of the universe,” the U.S. rulers are feverishly working to shore up and extend their dominance in the face of extremely difficult contradictions and challenges. All that has led to very sharp struggle within ruling class ranks and the empowering of a fascist regime, which is hell bent on crushing its opponents and now using the persecution of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning as part of an all-around assault on the press and the rights of the people.

IN HER OWN WORDS

In 2010, Manning put her life on the line by providing these files to WikiLeaks so as to incite, in her words, “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.” She said at the time: “This is one of the most significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.”

SOURCES

Iraq war logs reveal 15,000 previously unlisted civilian deaths,” Guardian, October 22, 2010

Iraqi leaks show scale of civilian casualties,” ABC News, October 23, 2010

WikiLeaks: Exposing War Crimes of a Criminal War,” revcom.us, August 15, 2010

 “WikiLeaks Files Shine Light on U.S. Accountability for Torture in Iraq,” revcom.us, January 16, 2011

U.S. Lashes Out At Wikileaks,” revcom.us, December 19, 2010

Larry Everest, “What Wikileaks Reveals: Cables, Lies & Murder,” revcom.us, December 19, 2010

Chelsea Manning Sentence Commuted: Welcome Manning’s Scheduled Release from Prison—Condemn Her Outrageous Seven-Year Imprisonment,” revcom.us, January 17, 2017

 


1. WikiLeaks is an international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources.  [back]

2. “The data cannot be relied upon as a complete record of Iraqi deaths. IBC [Iraq Body Count], for example, had previously calculated that up to 91,469 civilians were killed from various causes during the period covered by the leaked database. While detailing the 15,000 previously unknown deaths, it also omits many otherwise well-attested civilian fatalities caused by U.S. troops themselves. Nor does the Pentagon data cover any of the initial invasion fighting throughout 2003; IBC has identified 12,080 purely civilian deaths in that year. The U.S. figure is far lower than another widely quoted estimate of more than 650,000 ‘excess deaths’ extrapolated on a different basis and published in a 2006 study in the Lancet.” Guardian, October 22, 2010  [back]

3. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said Assange is a “high tech terrorist,” and Newt Gingrich said he is an “information terrorist” who should be arrested as an “enemy combatant.” Influential right-wing columnist William Kristol asked, “Why can’t we use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are? Why can’t we disrupt and destroy WikiLeaks in both cyberspace and physical space, to the extent possible?” Sarah Palin, writing on her Facebook page, asked, “Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”  [back]

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