April 5th marked the five year anniversary of WikiLeaks publication of the Collateral Murder Video. The footage of a secret US military video depicted an Apache helicopter killing Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists. It provided an uncensored view of modern war for the world to see. The light that shone in the darkness was the conscience of a young woman. Chelsea Manning (formally Bradley Manning) is now serving 35 years behind bars for her great public service.
After witnessing Manning confess to her role as WikiLeaks whistleblower at the court-martial proceeding in Fort Meade, Maryland, attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner said that locking her up “for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation”.
Manning’s disclosure of secret government documents exposed America’s illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Guantanamo Files revealed the state of America’s offshore gulags and violations of universal human rights according to the Geneva Convention. The secret US embassy cables let us see corrupted diplomacy serving corporate global hegemony through coercion and manipulation. Manning’s conscience shed light on the real actions of the US government behind a façade of democracy. Yet, the ugly face of empire was not the only thing she showed us.
This conscience of America reminds us of the ideals that founded this country. For her, the enlistment oath she took went beyond the Constitution to the spirit of equality inherent in the Declaration of Independence. She once spoke of her deeply felt connection to all people in the world, “i cant separate myself from others . . . i feel connected to everybody . . . like they were distant family”.
This deep bond to others allowed her to feel the words enshrined in the sacred document and to recognize when these truths were violated. This made it possible for her to witness what was really happening behind modern war that was shrouded by the euphemism of “collateral damage”. This was expressed in her words; “we’re human . . . and we’re killing ourselves”. She was able to recognize the victims of US propaganda wars and began to see those who had been branded enemy combatants as human beings like herself.
In her courageous act of releasing these documents, she demonstrated her loyalty to the core principle of this country. At the providence inquiry for her formal plea of guilty, she read aloud a statement describing facts regarding the incident in the Iraq suburb of New Baghdad. By upholding the self-evident Truth “that all Men are created equal”, she aimed to account for the actions of the helicopter crew on July 12, 2007.
By calling it “seemingly delightful bloodlust”, she noted this to be the most alarming aspect of the video and described how the soldiers “dehumanized the individuals they were engaging, and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in larger numbers.”
She explained how when a seriously wounded man on the ground was trying to crawl to safety, instead of calling for medical attention, one of the crew members asked for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so that he would have a reason to engage. She described this incident as “similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass”.
Manning also questioned the attitude and actions of the soldiers in the helicopter at the time of the second engagement on the video; the aerial cannon shooting of the unarmed ‘bongo truck’ (a van with two adults and two kids in it) that had stopped to help a wounded man. She expressed how deeply saddened she was by the aerial weapons team’s lack of concern for human life and their response of the discovery of injured children in the van, showing no remorse or sympathy for those they killed or injured.
In her request for a presidential pardon, Manning wrote how her time in Iraq made her “question the morality of America’s military presence since 9/11” and she realized that “in our efforts to meet the risks posed to us by the enemy, we had forgotten our Humanity”.
“I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”
Chelsea Manning is the conscience of America; a great light cast into a darkness that has been veiling the soul of this nation. Her deed of bearing witness to the gunship airstrikes that slayed over a dozen people on that fateful day calls our attention to something that had become so painful for many to see. At the same time, her light showed us our own light; who we are capable of becoming.
What infused the highest law of this land were ideals kindled in the heart. The Declaration of Independence was the promise and the Constitution was meant to be its fulfillment. Are we all created equal? Does the spirit of equality only apply to Americans or is it an unalienable right of every person in the world? Manning act of truth revealed that all human beings have the right to Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness, regardless of where they are born, their religion or color of skin.
The courageous source behind the footage of the US enactment of collateral murder in Iraq allowed the world to see how with the pretense of the War on Terror, we have violated the law and betrayed our own principles. By making this evidence available to the public, Manning gave us all an opportunity to carry her spark of light, to uphold the Truth that the founders of this country once held; that all are created equal and that all life is sacred.
Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency and decentralized movements. Find her on twitter @nozomimagine