A scene from the "Collateral Murder" video in which an Iraqi man stops his van to aid those wounded in a lethal U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, only to be killed by the American gunners.
Having covered the U.S. government for nearly 36 years, I am not so naÃ¯ve as to expect perfection or even anything close. But there are times when the immoral dimensions of Official Washington stand out in the starkest shades, not in variations of gray but in black and white.
Such was the gut-wrenching moment on Wednesday when Pvt. Bradley Manning, who exposed U.S. government war crimes and other wrongdoing, made a groveling apology for doing the right thing -- when there has been next to no accountability for the officials and their media collaborators who did innumerable wrong things.
At his court-martial sentencing hearing, Manning's attorneys presented the brave whistleblower as a psychologically confused young man who mistakenly thought he was doing something good when he was really doing something bad. They even released a photo of him dressed as a woman, setting the stage for Manning's apology.
"I'm sorry that my actions hurt people," Manning told the court martial judge. "I'm sorry that they hurt the United States. At the time of my decision, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continue to affect me."
But there has been no serious evidence that Manning's disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government records "hurt people" -- and they only "hurt the United States" in the sense that many of Official Washington's misdeeds and manipulations were exposed for the world to see. Some of Manning's critics say U.S. diplomats now won't be so forthcoming in describing these realities out of fear that some future Manning might do more leaking, but there's no evidence of that either.
In contrast to the lack of evidence regarding harm, there were undeniable benefits to democracy and human rights from what Manning did reveal. Manning's documents provided the detailed "ground truth" that has enabled Americans to better understand what their government did in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and how grotesque many of those crimes were.
For instance, because Manning disclosed a classified videotape, we know that the much-heralded "successful surge" in Iraq in 2007 included the slaughter of innocent Iraqis walking down the streets of Baghdad as well as the slaying of a Good Samaritan who stopped his van, carrying his own children, in a vain attempt to help the wounded. The trigger-happy helicopter gunners killed the man and wounded his kids, too.
Manning's leaks also revealed the U.S. government's awareness of gross corruption in "allied" countries, such as Tunisia where the revelations helped spark an uprising that drove out a longtime dictator and gave Tunisians a chance at democracy.
Iran's Nuclear Program
Another important Manning disclosure, which may have deterred another catastrophic war in the Middle East, was how the U.S. government had manipulated the election of the new director general to the International Atomic Energy Agency. U.S. Embassy cables, exposed by Manning, showed that Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano had been installed in 2009 as something of a U.S.-Israeli puppet.
The significance of this information was that, without it, Amano's IAEA could have advanced the goal of Israeli leaders and U.S. neoconservatives for war with Iran over its nuclear program by exaggerating the danger. That propaganda strategy was undercut by Manning's revelation that Amano was not only installed by the U.S. government but was meeting secretly with Israeli officials, ironically with Amano raising no complaints about Israel's own rogue nuclear arsenal.
When the cables about Amano came out a year after his appointment, Amano's IAEA was busy feeding the hysteria over Iran's nuclear program with reports that were trumpeted by major U.S. news outlets. IAEA's alarm undercut Iran's denial about building a bomb and a 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate which concluded that Iran had stopped work on a bomb in 2003.
So, I found it useful to examine the detailed documents regarding Amano's election. What those classified State Department cables showed was that Amano credited his election largely to U.S. government support and then stuck his hand out for more U.S. money. Further, Amano left little doubt that he would side with the United States in its confrontation with Iran.
According to U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA's headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering the prospect that Amano would advance U.S. interests in ways that outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei wouldn't.
In a July 9, 2009, cable, American charge Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. "Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive," the cable said.
The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director general, he would take a different "approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei" and he "saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions," i.e., U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.