Freedom of the Press Foundation Publishes Leaked Audio of Bradley Manning’s Statement
Today, Freedom of the Press Foundation is publishing the full, previously unreleased audio recording of Private First Class Bradley Manning’s speech to the military court in Ft. Meade about his motivations for leaking over 700,000 government documents to WikiLeaks. In addition, we have published highlights from Manning’s statement to the court.
While unofficial transcripts of this statement are available, this marks the first time the American public has heard the actual voice of Manning.
Bradley Manning’s Full Statement
See Help Spread Bradley Manning’s Words Across the Internet to embed the full audio, as well as excerpts from the audio, on your website.
He explains to the military court in his own cadence and words how and why he gave the Apache helicopter video, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars Logs, and the State Department Diplomatic Cables to WikiLeaks. Manning explains his motives, noting how he believed the documents showed deep wrongdoing by the government and how he hoped that the release would “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” In conjunction with the statement, Private First Class Manning also pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him.
Freedom of the Press Foundation is dedicated to supporting journalism that combats overreaching government secrecy. We have been disturbed that Manning’s pre-trial hearings have been hampered by the kind of extreme government secrecy that his releases to WikiLeaks were intended to protest. While reporters are allowed in the courtroom, no audio or visual recordings are permitted by the judge, no transcripts of the proceedings or any motions by the prosecution have been released, and lengthy court orders read on the stand by the judge have not been published for public review.
A short film by Laura Poitras
A group of journalists, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has been engaged in a legal battle to force the court to be more open. While the government has belatedly released a small portion of documents related to the case, many of the most important orders have been withheld—such as the orders relating to the speedy trial proceedings or the order related to Manning’s prolonged solitary confinement.
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of CCR, called the government “utterly unresponsive to what is a core First Amendment principle.” Ratner noted this is a public trial, the information being presented is not classified, and that contemporaneous access to information about the trial is necessary to understanding the proceedings. Nonetheless, the lawsuit has been tied up in the appeals court for months.
Freedom of the Press Foundation’s mission is to support and defend cutting-edge transparency journalism by supporting those organizations that publish leaks in the public interest. We often report on news surrounding government secrecy, educating the public about the important relationship between leaking and independent journalism. When we received this recording, we realized we had a unique opportunity to bring some small measure of transparency directly by allowing the world to hear for itself the voice of someone who took a controversial and important stance for government transparency.
We hope this recording will shed light on one of the most secret court trials in recent history, in which the government is putting on trial a concerned government employee whose only stated goal was to bring attention to what he viewed as serious governmental misconduct and criminal activity. We hope to prompt additional analysis of these proceedings by other journalistic institutions and the public at large. While we are not equipped (technically or as a matter of human resources) to receive leaked information nor do we plan on receiving them in the future, we are proud to publish and analyze this particular recording because it is so clearly matches our mission of supporting transparency journalism.
The information provided by Manning has uncovered stories of wrongdoing by the United States, as well as by leaders and politicians around the world. The cables were reportedly one of the catalysts that led to the Arab Spring and sped up the end of the Iraq War. To this day, more than two years after their release, the information provided by Manning is used every day by journalists and historians in major publications are the world to enlighten and inform the public, both in the United States and around the world. In a time when the extent and reach of U.S. government secrecy is unprecedented, and there are credible reports that the government has abused its secrecy and classification systems to cover up numerous illegal and unconstitutional activities, Manning’s actions should be seen as an overdue sliver of sunlight into an overly secret system rather than as a basis for a prosecution seeking decades of imprisonment.
By releasing this audio recording, we wish to make sure that the voice of this generation’s most prolific whistleblower can be heard—literally—by the world.
Regardless of whether one believes that Manning’s acts were right or wrong or a mix of both, he has taken responsibility for them by pleading guilty to ten charges, for which he faces up to twenty years in prison. The government however, is continuing to pursue all of the charges against him, including charges under the Espionage Act and “aiding the enemy” —which could have huge consequences for press freedom and the First Amendment. The ACLU has expressed concern that this “aiding the enemy” charge could criminalize speech for all sorts of active military members, noting that “In its zeal to throw the book at Manning, the government has so overreached that its ‘success’ would turn thousands of loyal soldiers into criminals.”
And Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler has argued that this prosecution could decimate national security journalism by outlawing whole categories of journalist-source relationships in the future: “[T]he prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too.”
Extreme secrecy in our courts, just like in our government’s policies and our politics, is an anathema to democracy. Whether military or civilian, this type of closed-door legal process impairs the public’s right-to-know and journalists’ ability to report on matters of deep public concern. The courtrooms of America should be open to the public, so they can see and hear what is being done in their name.
Scroll down to listen to and share excerpts from Manning’s full statement that may be of particular public interest. Transcript courtesy Alexa O’Brien.
Excerpt 1: Motive in releasing war logs
During this time a blizzard bombarded the mid-atlantic, and I spent a significant period of time essentially stuck in my aunt’s house in Maryland. I began to think about what I knew and the information I still had in my possession. For me, the SigActs represented the on the ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.
In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.
Excerpt 2: Contacting media outlets
At my aunt’s house I debated what I should do with the SigActs—in particular whether I should hold on to them—or expose them through a press agency. At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local news paper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public.
Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.
I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.
I also briefly considered dropping into the office for the Political Commentary blog, Politico, however the weather conditions during my leave hampered my efforts to travel. After these failed efforts I had ultimately decided to submit the materials to the WLO. I was not sure if the WLO would actually publish these SigAct tables [missed a few words]. I was concerned that they might not be noticed by the American media. However, based upon what I read about the WLO through my research described above, this seemed to be the best medium for publishing this information to the world within my reach.
Excerpt 3: Using Tor to submit documents to Wikileaks
On 3 February 2010, I visited the WLO website on my computer and clicked on the submit documents link. Next I found the submit your information online link and elected to submit the SigActs via the onion router or Tor anonymizing network by special link. Tor is a system intended to provide anonymity online. The software routes internet traffic through a network of servers and other Tor clients in order to conceal the user’s location and identity.
I was familiar with Tor and had it previously installed on a computer to anonymously monitor the social media website of militia groups operating within central Iraq. I followed the prompts and attached the compressed data files of CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A SigActs. I attached a text file I drafted while preparing to provide the documents to the Washington Post. It provided rough guidelines saying: “It’s already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information – perhaps 90 to 100 days to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect its source. This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of twenty-first century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.”
Excerpt 4: Manning’s reaction when he found the Apache helicopter video
During the mid-February 2010 time frame the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division targeting analysts, then Specialist Jihrleah W. Showman discussed a video that Ms. Showman had found on the T-drive.
The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an aerial weapons team. At first I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other war porn type videos depicting combat. However, the recording of audio comments by the aerial weapons team crew and the second engagement in the video of an unarmed bongo truck troubled me.
As Showman and a few other analysts and officers in the T-SCIF commented on the video and debated whether the crew violated the rules of engagement or ROE in the second engagement, I shied away from this debate, instead conducting some research on the event. I wanted to learn what happened and whether there was any background to the events of the day that the event occurred, 12 July 2007.
Using Google I searched for the event by its date by its general location. I found several new accounts involving two Reuters employees who were killed during the aerial weapon team engagement. Another story explained that Reuters had requested for a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Reuters wanted to view the video in order to understand what had happened and to improve their safety practices in combat zones. A spokesperson for Reuters was quoted saying that the video might help avoid the reoccurrence of the tragedy and believed there was a compelling need for the immediate release of the video.
Despite the submission of the FOIA request, the news account explained that CENTCOM replied to Reuters stating that they could not give a time frame for considering a FOIA request and that the video might no longer exist. Another story I found written a year later said that even though Reuters was still pursuing their request. They still did not receive a formal response or written determination in accordance with FOIA.
The fact neither CENTCOM or Multi National Forces Iraq or MNF-I would not voluntarily release the video troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the aerial weapons team mistakenly identified Reuters employees as a potential threat and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat but merely “good samaritans”. The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have.
The dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote “dead bastards” unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers. At one point in the video there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the aerial weapons team crew members verbally asks for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he can have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.
While saddened by the aerial weapons team crew’s lack of concern about human life, I was disturbed by the response of the discovery of injured children at the scene. In the video, you can see that the bongo truck driving up to assist the wounded individual. In response the aerial weapons team crew – as soon as the individuals are a threat, they repeatedly request for authorization to fire on the bongo truck and once granted they engage the vehicle at least six times.
Shortly after the second engagement, a mechanized infantry unit arrives at the scene. Within minutes, the aerial weapons team crew learns that children were in the van and despite the injuries the crew exhibits no remorse. Instead, they downplay the significance of their actions, saying quote “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle” unquote.
The aerial weapons team crew members sound like they lack sympathy for the children or the parents. Later in a particularly disturbing manner, the aerial weapons team verbalizes enjoyment at the sight of one of the ground vehicles driving over a body – or one of the bodies. As I continued my research, I found an article discussing the book, The Good Soldiers, written by Washington Post writer David Finkel.
In Mr. Finkel book, he writes about the aerial weapons team attack. As, I read an online excerpt in Google Books, I followed Mr. Finkel’s account of the event belonging to the video. I quickly realize that Mr. Finkel was quoting, I feel in verbatim, the audio communications of the aerial weapons team crew.
It is clear to me that Mr. Finkel obtained access and a copy of the video during his tenue as an embedded journalist. I was aghast at Mr. Finkel’s portrayal of the incident. Reading his account, one would believe the engagement was somehow justified as “payback” for an earlier attack that lead to the death of a soldier. Mr. Finkel ends his account by discussing how a soldier finds an individual still alive from the attack. He writes that the soldier finds him and sees him gesture with his two forefingers together, a common method in the Middle East to communicate that they are friendly. However, instead of assisting him, the soldier makes an obscene gesture extending his middle finger.
The individual apparently dies shortly thereafter. Reading this, I can only think of how this person was simply trying to help others, and then he quickly finds he needs help as well. To make matter worse, in the last moments of his life, he continues to express his friendly gesture – only to find himself receiving this well known gesture of unfriendliness. For me it’s all a big mess, and I am left wondering what these things mean, and how it all fits together. It burdens me emotionally.
I saved a copy of the video on my workstation. I searched for and found the rules of engagement, the rules of engagement annexes, and a flow chart from the 2007 time period – as well as an unclassified Rules of Engagement smart card from 2006. On 15 February 2010 I burned these documents onto a CD-RW, the same time I burned the 10 Reykjavik 13 cable onto a CD-RW. At the time, I placed the video and rules for engagement information onto my personal laptop in my CHU. I planned to keep this information there until I redeployed in Summer 2010. I planned on providing this to the Reuters office in London to assist them in preventing events such as this in the future.
However, after the WLO published 10 Reykjavik 13 I altered my plans. I decided to provide the video and the rules of engagement to them so that Reuters would have this information before I re-deployed from Iraq. On about 21 February 2010, I described above, I used the WLO submission form and uploaded the documents. The WLO released the video on 5 April 2010. After the release, I was concern about the impact of the video and how it would been received by the general public.
I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled – if not more troubled that me by what they saw.
Excerpt 5: On reporting that Iraqi detainees did nothing wrong
On 27 February 2010, a report was received from a subordinate battalion. The report described an event in which the Federal Police or FP detained 15 individuals for printing anti-Iraqi literature. On 2 March 2010, I received instructions from an S3 section officer in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Tactical Operation Center or TOC to investigate the matter, and figure out who the quote “bad guys” unquote were and how significant this event was for the Federal Police.
Over the course of my research I found that none of the individuals had previous ties to anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist militia groups. A few hours later, I received several [playlist?] from the scene – from this subordinate battalion. They were accidentally sent to an officer on a different team on the S2 section and she forwarded them to me.
These photos included picture of the individuals, pallets of unprinted paper and seized copies of the final printed material or the printed document; and a high resolution photo of the printed material itself. I printed up one [missed word] copy of a high resolution photo – I laminated it for ease of use and transfer. I then walked to the TOC and delivered the laminated copy to our category two interpreter.
She reviewed the information and about a half and hour later delivered a rough written transcript in English to the S2 section. I read the transcript and followed up with her, asking her for her take on the content. She said it was easy for her to transcribe verbatim, since I blew up the photograph and laminated it. She said the general nature of the document was benign. The document, as I had sensed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government and the financial impact of his corruption on the Iraqi people. After discovering this discrepancy between the Federal Police’s report and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery to the top OIC and the battle NCOIC. The top OIC and the overhearing battle captain informed me that they didn’t need or want to know this information anymore. They told me to quote “drop it” unquote and to just assist them and the Federal Police in finding out, where more of these print shops creating quote “anti-Iraqi literature” unquote.
I couldn’t believe what I heard and I returned to the T-SCIF and complained to the other analysts and my section NCOIC about what happened. Some were sympathetic, but no one wanted to do anything about it.
I am the type of person who likes to know how things work. And, as an analyst, this means I always want to figure out the truth. Unlike other analysts in my section or other sections within the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, I was not satisfied with just scratching the surface and producing canned or cookie cutter assessments. I wanted to know why something was the way it was, and what we could to correct or mitigate a situation.
I knew that if I continued to assist the Baghdad Federal Police in identifying the political opponents of Prime Minister al-Maliki, those people would be arrested and in the custody of the Special Unit of the Baghdad Federal Police and very likely tortured and not seen again for a very long time – if ever.
Instead of assisting the Special Unit of the Baghdad Federal Police, I decided to take the information and expose it to the WLO, in the hope that before the upcoming 7 March 2010 election, they could generate some immediate press on the issue and prevent this unit of the Federal Police from continuing to crack down in political opponents of al-Maliki.
Excerpt 6: Motives in releasing cables
I read more of the diplomatic cables published on the Department of State Net Centric Diplomacy. With my insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics I became fascinated with them. I read not only the cables on Iraq, but also about countries and events that I found interesting
The more I read, the more I was fascinated with the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.
Excerpt 7: Assessing sensitivity diplomatic cables
Up to this point,during the deployment, I had issues I struggled with and difficulty at work. Of the documents release, the cables were the only one I was not absolutely certain couldn’t harm the United States. I conducted research on the cables published on the Net Centric Diplomacy, as well as how Department of State cables worked in general.
In particular, I wanted to know how each cable was published on SIRPnet via the Net Centric Diplomacy. As part of my open source research, I found a document published by the Department of State on its official website.
The document provided guidance on caption markings for individual cables and handling instructions for their distribution. I quickly learned the caption markings clearly detailed the sensitivity of the Department of State cables. For example, NODIS or No Distribution was used for messages at the highest sensitivity and were only distributed to the authorized recipients.
The SIPDIS or SIPRnet distribution caption was applied only to recording of other information messages that were deemed appropriate for a release for a wide number of individuals. According to the Department of State guidance for a cable to have the SIPDIS [missed word] caption, it could not include other captions that were intended to limit distribution.
The SIPDIS caption was only for information that could only be shared with anyone with access to SIPRnet. I was aware that thousands of military personel, DoD, Department of State, and other civilian agencies had easy access to the tables. The fact that the SIPDIS caption was only for wide distribution made sense to me, given that the vast majority of the Net Centric Diplomacy Cables were not classified.
The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public. I once read a and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.
I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy. Given all of the Department of State cables that I read, the fact that most of the cables were unclassified, and that all the cables have a SIPDIS caption.
I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States, however, I did believe that the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations and organizations.
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The U.S. Army Military District of Washington released a statement to POLITICO:
“The U.S. Army Military District of Washington has notified the military judge presiding over the United States vs. Pfc. Bradley Manning court martial that there was a violation of the rules for court. The U.S. Army is currently reviewing the procedures set in place to safeguard the security and integrity of the legal proceedings, and ensure Pfc. Manning receives a fair and impartial trial.”
all thanks to freedom of the press foundation for this work