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Josh Dougherty is IBC's senior researcher and analyst. For the last three years much of his work has been dedicated to analysing the Iraq War Logs to extract public-interest data about civilian casualties and integrate them into the Iraq Body Count database.

When victimless crimes matter and victims don't: the trial of Bradley Manning

by Josh Dougherty
2 August 2013

On October 22, 2010, the group WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs, a series of nearly 400,000 classified military records, also known as "SIGACTs". These documents have remained publicly available on the internet in various forms since the original release, and IBC has been working since then to carefully integrate them into our database. As of today, more than 4,000 civilian deaths have been added to the IBC database derived exclusively from these records, and roughly 10,000 more are likely to be added as the work continues.1

2 Alexa O'Brien (28 Feb 2013) Bradley Manning's statement

It was widely believed even prior to the October 2010 release of the Iraq War Logs that Private First Class Bradley Manning of the US military had been the original source of the WikiLeaks documents, as he had been arrested on this basis several months earlier, and some chat logs that appeared to show Manning admitting as much had been published on the internet. This was later confirmed in statements made by Manning at trial.2

On July 30, 2013, Manning was found guilty of 20 charges by a military court for his release of the documents, including those pertaining to the Iraq war. The court acquitted him of the most extreme allegation of "aiding the enemy", but he now faces a possible maximum sentence of 136 years, essentially a life behind bars for exposing important truths, including war crimes and human rights violations, to the public.

By contrast, former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who started a war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 that has led to the deaths of over 125,000 civilians, 4,486 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi and other fighters on all sides, face living the rest of their lives in freedom as multi-millionaires.

Likewise, all upper-level US government officials who presided over the bloodbath that was the US occupation of Iraq, including the years of 2004-2009 covered in the documents exposed by Manning, will face no punishment of any kind.

Some lower-level US troops have faced punishment for some specific actions, but this has been quite rare and the punishments have typically been relatively light even where they were sought.

3 IBC incident k2171 24 killed by US Marines in Haditha

4 Reuters (23 Jan 2012) Marine pleads guilty, ending final Haditha trial

5 WikiLeaks (5 Apr 2010) Collateral Murder
IBC incidents k6936 and k6936b

For example, the US Marines involved in one of the most notorious massacres of civilians in Iraq by US forces, in Haditha in November 2005,3 faced virtually no legal consequences. One Marine was convicted of a minor offense for which he served no jail time, and the rest have all been acquitted or had all charges dropped and will live the rest of their lives in freedom.4

The helicopter pilots who gunned down at least ten civilians, including two Reuters journalists and a father of two children who stopped to try to help the wounded, as documented in the "Collateral Murder" video exposed by Bradley Manning, face no punishment of any kind.5

6 Washington Post (28 Sep 2005) Reservist Sentenced to 3 Years for Abu Ghraib Abuse

Soldiers involved in carrying out systematic torture (and in some cases murder) of detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison, exposed in 2004, in some cases received punishment. Just eleven soldiers received any kind of punishment at all. The heaviest sentence handed down to one soldier was 10 years in prison, for which he received parole after serving 6.5 years and is now free. Other sentences included reprimands, rank reductions, small fines or short prison terms.6

It would seem apparent that the US government has a rather lenient approach to prosecution of its own soldiers, who are rarely charged, even more rarely convicted and typically receive relatively light sentences for even very serious offenses. And lenient is too strong a word for the treatment of upper-level military or civilian government officials, who essentially enjoy total immunity from prosecution for anything related to the Iraq war.

Now contrast this to the prosecution faced by Bradley Manning. No soldier or official involved in the Iraq war has faced the level of vindictive punishment that US prosecutors have sought to impose on Bradley Manning. Indeed, it appears that, as far as the US government is concerned, torture, murder, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes are much lesser transgressions than is exposing them to the public without the government's permission.

Having already spent over 3 years in pre-trial detention, much of it in solitary confinement where he was subjected to torture, and now facing the possibility of life imprisonment, Bradley Manning has by any rational standard been subject to extreme and disproportionate persecution by the US government. But he is far from the only victim who is directly relevant to this unfolding story. One must also consider the thousands of Iraqi victims known to us now only because of the actions taken by Bradley Manning to reveal them.

IBC has produced a list of thousands of incidents in the Iraq war between 2004-09, killing several thousand Iraqi civilians that have now been sourced exclusively from the documents released by Bradley Manning, and who would otherwise have remained hidden to the world at large:

Full list of incidents sourced from the Iraq War Logs, extracted to date (2 August 2013).

This is not yet even a complete record, as many thousands more are likely to be added as the work of integrating the documents continues. Just a few examples include:

These and thousands of others like them are known to the world today only because Bradley Manning could no longer in good conscience collude with an official policy of the Bush and Obama administrations to abuse secrecy and "national security" to erase them from history. If Manning deserves any punishment at all for this, certainly his three years already served, and the disgraceful abuse he was made to suffer during it, is more than enough.