In 2010, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was detained in Iraq on suspicion of passing classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. On Monday, after more than three years in military jail, his trial finally began at Fort Meade, Md.
The 25-year-old intelligence analyst admitted earlier this year to passing documents to the whistle-blowing website, though he denies the charge of “aiding the enemy,” an offense that carries a life sentence or the death penalty. Manning said at a pretrial hearing in February that he leaked information, including diplomatic cables and U.S. military war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy.”
Below is a list of 10 revelations disclosed by Manning’s leaked documents that offer insight into the breadth and scope of what he revealed, help explain his motivation for leaking, and provide context for the ongoing trial. The list, in no particular order, is far from comprehensive but encompasses some of the most significant information brought to light by the leaked documents.
- During the Iraq War, U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to thousands of field reports.
- There were 109,032 “violent deaths” recorded in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including 66,081 civilians. Leaked records from the Afghan War separately revealed coalition troops’ alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers.
- The U.S. Embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops, with U.S. diplomats effectively working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto.
- British and American officials colluded in a plan to mislead the British Parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs.
- In Baghdad in 2007, a U.S. Army helicopter gunned down a group of civilians, including two Reuters news staff.
- U.S. special operations forces were conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan despite sustained public denials and statements to the contrary by U.S. officials.
- A leaked diplomatic cable provided evidence that during an incident in 2006, U.S. troops in Iraq executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence. The disclosure of this cable was later a significant factor in the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution beyond 2011, which led to U.S. troops withdrawing from the country.
- A NATO coalition in Afghanistan was using an undisclosed “black” unit of special operations forces to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. The unit was revealed to have had a kill-or-capture list featuring details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida, but it had in some cases mistakenly killed men, women, children, and Afghan police officers.
- The U.S. threatened the Italian government in an attempt to influence a court case involving the indictment of CIA agents over the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric. Separately, U.S. officials were revealed to have pressured Spanish prosecutors to dissuade them from investigating U.S. torture allegations, secret “extraordinary rendition” flights, and the killing of a Spanish journalist by U.S. troops in Iraq.
- In apparent violation of a 1946 U.N. convention, Washington initiated a spying campaign in 2009 that targeted the leadership of the U.N. by seeking to gather top officials’ private encryption keys, credit card details, and biometric data.
Although Manning’s disclosures totaled some 720,000 records—the largest security breach in U.S. history—the leak still amounted to less than 1 percent of the almost 77 million documents reportedly classified by U.S. government agencies in 2010. The soldier’s actions are at the center of an ongoing debate about a spike in extreme state secrecy in the U.S. since Sept. 11—an issue regularly covered here on Future Tense—that has resulted in several aggressive leak investigations and surveillance of journalists. During the first day of Manning’s trial, the government accused the soldier of indirectly assisting al-Qaida and leaking the information to “gain the notoriety he craved.” Manning’s defense attorney described him as “young, naive, but good intentioned,” passing documents to WikiLeaks in a bid to “make the world a better place.”
Manning’s trial is expected to last through the summer.
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