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Two Years of Cablegate as Bradley Manning Testifies for the First Time

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Cross-posted from Huffington Post



Thursday, November 29th, Bradley Manning testified for the first time since his arrest two-and-a-half years ago in Baghdad. Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the first front pages around the world from Cablegate, an archive of 251,287 U.S. State Department diplomatic cables -- messages sent between the State Department and its embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world. In collaboration with a network of more than 100 press outlets we revealed the full spectrum of techniques used by the United States to exert itself around the world. The young intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was detained as an alleged source.

WikiLeaks came under attack, with American politicians and right-wing pundits calling for all of us to be designated as terrorists; some even calling for my assassination and the kidnapping of our staff. Speaking on Meet The Press, Vice President Joe Biden referred to me as a "high-tech terrorist," while Senator Joe Lieberman demanded that we be prosecuted under the U.S. Espionage Act. The Department of Justice spokesperson Dean Boyd admitted as recently as July 2012 that the Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, and the Pentagon renewed its threats against us on September 28th, declaring our work an "ongoing crime." As a result, I have been granted political asylum and now live in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, surrounded by armed police while the FBI portion of the "whole of government" investigation against us, according to court testimony, had reached 42,135 pages as of December last year.

Earlier this week, WikiLeaks released European Commission documents showing that Senator Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King directly influenced decisions by PayPal, Visa and MasterCard to block donations to WikiLeaks, which has blocked 95 percent of our donors since December of 2010. Last week the European Parliament expressed its will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary blockade of WikiLeaks.

Bradley Manning, who is alleged to be a source of the cables, started testifying on Thursday about his pre-trial treatment, which UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez said was "at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture." Captain William Hoctor, the government psychiatrist with 24 years of experience who evaluated Manning at Quantico base in Virginia, testified that brig commanders had ignored his recommendations for Manning's detention, something he had not even experienced in his work at Guantanamo bay prison.

Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for 921 days. This is the longest pre-trial detention of a U.S. military soldier since at least the Vietnam War. U.S. military law says the maximum is 120 days.

The material that Bradley Manning is alleged to have leaked has highlighted astonishing examples of U.S. subversion of the democratic process around the world, systematic evasion of accountability for atrocities and killings, and many other abuses. Our archive of State Department cables have appeared in tens of thousands of articles, books and scholarly works, illustrating the nature of U.S. foreign policy and the instruments of U.S. national power. On the two-year anniversary of the start of Cablegate, I want to highlight some of the stories that have emerged.

A War of Terror

The United States' War on Terror has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, inflamed sectarian violence, and made a mockery of international law. Victims and their families struggle to have their stories acknowledged, and the U.S.' systematic avoidance of accountability for war crimes implicitly denies their right to be considered human beings. Moreover, as the U.S. increasingly relies on clandestine military operations conducted outside the scrutiny of government oversight, the execution of this expanding War on Terror becomes increasingly uncoupled from the democratic process. While President Obama had promised the American people in 2008 that he would end the Iraq War, U.S. troops were only withdrawn when information from a cable revived international scrutiny of abuse occurring in Iraq, resulting in a refusal to grant continued immunity to U.S. troops in 2012 or beyond.

In 2007 the U.S. embassy in Baghdad obtained a copy of the Iraqi government's final investigation report on the massacre of 17 civilians on September 16th, 2007 in Nisour Square. The report concluded that the incident was an unprovoked attack on unarmed civilians, asked for $8 million in compensation for each death and $4 million for each injury, and demanded that the private security firm Blackwater be replaced within six months. Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for two years afterwards, and the U.S. Embassy compensated victims with $10,000 for each death and $5,000 for each injury. Five years later, the offending Blackwater mercenaries have escaped from accountability to Iraq, and attempts to bring them to justice in the U.S. have resulted in a long chain of dismissed cases and one undisclosed settlement. WikiLeaks' Iraq War Logs release of 391,832 U.S. Army field reports uncovered 14 additional cases where Blackwater opened fire on civilians, along with numerous other incidents of abuse. The Iraq War Logs also showed how the United States handed over prisoners to be tortured in gruesome detail -- stories of electrocution, mutilation and of victims being attacked with drills.

The fact that, five years on, the victims of the Nisour Square Massacre have seen no meaningful accountability is an atrocity. But it is unfortunately no surprise that the U.S. claims immunity for its forces in other countries, then fails to administer justice at home.

These events -- and in particular one cable detailing the summary execution of 10 Iraqi civilians, including four women and five children -- by U.S. soldiers and a subsequent airstrike to cover up the evidence, forced the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The story of handcuffed execution and cover-up sparked outrage around the world in the midst of negotiations to extend U.S. troop presence into 2012 and, in response to international coverage, Iraq revived its investigation into the incident. Iraq ultimately refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops in 2012, forcing the U.S. to withdraw in December 2011.

This systemic violence and cover-up extends to the war in Afghanistan. When news emerged that a midnight bombing campaign on the Afghan village of Granai in 2009 had possibly resulted in the death of up to 100 civilians, U.S. officials publicly asserted that most of the dead had been Taliban fighters. A State Department cable written shortly after the event summarizes a meeting between the Red Cross' Afghanistan chief Reto Stocker and U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry in which they discussed findings from an investigation of the event. In the cable, Stocker is referred to as "one of the most credible sources for unbiased and objective information in Afghanistan." The Red Cross report estimated that 89 of the dead and 13 injured were in fact civilians. Neither the U.S. government nor the Red Cross publicly revealed these figures.

WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring

The Tunisian cables describe the extreme corruption and lack of transparency of the Ben Ali regime. The Ben Ali extended family are described as the worst offenders, their lavish life accompanied by "a wide-range of corrupt schemes," including "property expropriation and extortion of bribes." We also learned that Ben Ali family assets included an airline, several hotels and a radio station. One cable describes state censorship of Tunisia's only private broadcast satellite TV station, and a surprise tax judgment against the station of almost $1.5 million.

In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty International praised WikiLeaks and its media partners for catalyzing the revolution in Tunisia:

"While the 'Jasmine Revolution' in Tunisia would not have happened without the long struggle of brave human rights defenders over the last two decades, support for activists from outside the country may have been strengthened as people scrutinized the WikiLeaks documents on Tunisia and understood the roots of the anger. In particular, some of the documents made clear that countries around the world were aware of both the political repression and the lack of economic opportunity, but for the most part were not taking action to urge change."

When Tunisia's president Moncef Marzouki spoke with me on The World Tomorrow, he thanked WikiLeaks for its work, saying, "I am very grateful for all that you have done for promoting human rights, truth, and I admire and support your efforts."

Shortly following Tunisia's revolution, protests erupted in Libya, and a new batch of cables revealed the strategic calculations behind U.S. support of the Gaddafi regime. In Egypt, cables revealed that Mubarak would rather die in office than step down and that his son would likely succeed him. Then, just as evidence emerged that Vice President Suleiman was tipped to replace Mubarak, cables were released detailing his former role as intelligence chief, as well as his close ties to Israel. Such elements became a crucial part of the ongoing Egyptian uprising.

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Thanks for this great, detailed article. This dis... by Mark Gonzalez on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 10:57:51 AM
What if the 'anti-christ' wasn't so much a man as ... by Ginger McClemons on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 11:33:11 AM
Ginger points out that the 'anti Christ' is not a ... by Patricia Gray on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 12:13:35 PM
My comment about paybacks refers to karma, which c... by Ginger McClemons on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 1:46:43 PM
Where do you go from up..."they will make a very l... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 3:06:20 PM
human history. Let us not waste it or allow it to ... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 1:31:23 PM
For Manning, and want to thank you both, and all l... by Kim Cassidy on Saturday, Dec 1, 2012 at 7:08:52 PM