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“In no case shall information be classified… in order to: conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency… or prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.”
—Executive Order 13526, Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations
“Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is this awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”
—Robert Gates, Unites States Secretary of Defense
PFC Bradley Manning is a US Army intelligence specialist who is accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, an organization that he allegedly understood would release portions of the information to news organizations and ultimately to the public.
Was the information that PFC Manning is accused of leaking classified for our protection and national security, as government officials contend? Or do the revelations provide the American public with information that we should have had access to in the first place? Just what are these revelations? Below are some key facts that PFC Manning is accused of making public.
There is an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq.
The “Iraq War Logs” published by WikiLeaks revealed that thousands of reports of prisoner abuse and torture had been filed against the Iraqi Security Forces. Medical evidence detailed how prisoners had been whipped with heavy cables across the feet, hung from ceiling hooks, suffered holes being bored into their legs with electric drills, urinated upon, and sexually assaulted. These logs also revealed the existence of “Frago 242,” an order implemented in 2004 not to investigate allegations of abuse against the Iraqi government. This order is a direct violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the United States in 1994. The Convention prohibits the Armed Forces from transferring a detainee to other countries “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” According to the State Department’s own reports, the U.S. government was already aware that the Iraqi Security Forces engaged in torture (1).
U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.
U.S. defense contractors were brought under much tighter supervision after leaked diplomatic cables revealed that they had been complicit in child trafficking activities. DynCorp — a powerful defense contracting firm that claims almost $2 billion per year in revenue from U.S. tax dollars — threw a party for Afghan security recruits featuring boys purchased from child traffickers for entertainment. DynCorp had already faced human trafficking charges before this incident took place. According to the cables, Afghan Interior minister Hanif Atmar urged the assistant US ambassador to “quash” the story. These revelations have been a driving factor behind recent calls for the removal of all U.S. defense contractors from Afghanistan (2).
Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.
The Guantanamo Files describe how detainees were arrested based on what the New York Times referred to as highly subjective evidence. For example, some poor farmers were captured after they were found wearing a common watch or a jacket that was the same as those also worn by Al Queda operatives. How quickly innocent prisoners were released was heavily dependent on their country of origin. Because the evidence collected against Guantanamo prisoners is not permissible in U.S. courts, the U.S. State Department has offered millions of dollars to other countries to take and try our prisoners. According to a U.S. diplomatic cable written on April 17, 2009, the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners requested that the National Court indict six former U.S. officials for creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture against five Spanish prisoners at Guantanamo. However, “Senator Mel Martinez… met Acting FM [Foreign Minister] Angel Lossada… on April 15. Martinez… underscored that the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the U.S. and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” (3).
There is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even though the Bush and Obama Administrations maintained publicly that there was no official count of civilian casualties, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs showed that this claim was false. Between 2004 and 2009, the U.S. government counted a total of 109,000 deaths in Iraq, with 66,081 classified as non-combatants. This means that for every Iraqi death that is classified as a combatant, two innocent men, women or children are also killed (4).
U.S. Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians.
The “Collateral Murder” video released by Wikileaks depicted the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two journalists working for Reuters. The Reuters news organization has repeatedly been denied in its attempts to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act. The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters photographer and his rescuers. Two young children who were present in the attempted rescue were also seriously wounded. Ethan McCord, a U.S. army soldier who can be seen in the video carrying wounded children to safety, has said that whoever revealed this video is a “hero.” An internal U.S. military investigation concluded that the incident was consistent with the military’s “Rules of Engagement.” (5)
The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.
Leaked diplomatic cables show that in 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince pushed then-Haitian President Rene Preval to come out in support of powerful textile manufacturers who sought to block a popular minimum wage increase. These factory owners, who produce apparel for large brands like Nike and Nautica, had benefitted from recent free trade agreements that had severely lowered wages and working conditions in Haiti. A series of cables show that the US Embassy closely monitored the movements and activities of student protestors supporting the $5/day minimum wage bill. The bill’s supporters had argued that the increase was justified in light of rising inflation and food costs that had led to widespread starvation. According to the leaked cables, the U.S. delegation dismissed the proposed minimum wage increase as nothing more than a populist measure aimed at appeasing “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” Ultimately, the U.S. delegation succeeded in their efforts when President Preval agreed to block the increase (6).
The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.
The Tunisian people were already well aware of the corruption plaguing the autocratic ruling family, which for decades had abused their rights. However, the United States government had long presented a public image of strong support for the Ben Ali regime. The U.S. campaign of unwavering public support for President Ali led to a widespread belief among the Tunisian people that it would be very difficult to dislodge the autocratic regime from power. This view was shattered when leaked cables exposed the U.S. government’s private assessment: that the U.S. would not support the regime in the event of a popular uprising. While extreme economic hardship and popular discontent with rights abuses had already set the stage for an uprising, this new information played a critical role in transforming the landscape of political possibilities in Tunisia. The Tunisian people finally realized that, contrary to the U.S. government’s public relations efforts, they weren’t really up against the full force of the world’s superpower. Within one month, Ben Ali became the first Arab leader to be swept from power in the ongoing democratic movements in the region (7).
Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.
According to a leaked diplomatic cable from Cairo, the head of Egypt’s notorious State Security Investigative Service (SSIS) thanked FBI Deputy Director John Pistole for the “excellent and strong” cooperation between the two agencies. In particular, the FBI’s training sessions in Quantico, Virginia were of “great benefit” to his interrogators. Another cable documented what the US embassy considered “credible” allegations of human rights violations by the SSIS, including torturing prisoners with “electric shocks and sleep deprivation to reduce them to a ‘zombie state’” (8). After the autocratic Mubarak regime was driven from power in the recent Egyptian Revolution, protestors stormed the “Amn Dawla” headquarters of the SSIS to uncover further evidence of torture and abuse. They posted these documents on their own site, known as “Amn Dawla Leaks.”
The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.
According to the “National Humint Collection Directive,” a secret document that was signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats were authorized to collect “biometric” and other sensitive information from top UN officials as well as UN representatives from other nations. The leaked documents show that “biometric data” specifically included samples of the officials’ DNA, among other forms of personally identifying information. They also ordered diplomats to collect credit card information and secure passwords. These activities contravene the 1946 UN Convention (9).
The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.
A cable from December 2008 showed that officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency had warned the government about the danger posed by potential seismic activity in the area. The official stated that Japan’s “safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years.” He also noted that the government had fought against a court order to close down another nuclear facility that was not adequately prepared for an earthquake. After being ignored by the Japanese government, the IAEA official also warned the U.S. ambassador to Japan about the looming threat from possible earthquake damage. These warnings went unheeded. The International Atomic Energy Agency has now ranked the Fukushima disaster as severe as Chernobyl (10).
The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.
Since December 2009, President Obama has authorized a secret drone bombing campaign in Yemen. A year later, WikiLeaks revealed that Yemen’s President Saleh had agreed that his regime would “continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” These drone strikes have killed large numbers of civilians. One of the strikes that occurred shortly before the cable in question was written had killed 55 people, 41 of whom were classified as civilians (21 of these were children) according to a report by Amnesty International (11). This US military operation in Yemen, which persists to this day, has not been officially acknowledged by our government.
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
– United States founding father Patrick Henry (1775)
(1) Alex Spillius, “Wikileaks: Iraq War Logs show US ignored torture allegations,” Telegraph, October 22, 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/8082223/Wikileaks-Iraq-War-Logs-show-US-ignored-torture-allegations.html
(2) Foreign contractors hired Afghan ‘dancing boys’, WikiLeaks cable reveals,” guardian.co.uk, December 2, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/02/foreign-contractors-hired-dancing-boys
(3) Scott Shane and Benjamin Weiser, “The Guatanamo Files: Judging Detainees’ Risk, Often With Flawed Evidence,” New York Times, April 24, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-flawed-evidence-for-assessing-risk.html; “US embassy cables: Don’t pursue Guantánamo criminal case, says Spanish attorney general,” guardian.co.uk, December 1, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/202776
(4) Iraq War Logs Reveal 15,000 Previously Unlisted Civilian Deaths,” guardian.co.uk, October 22, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/22/true-civilian-body-count-iraq
(5) Steven Clarke and Joseph Bamat, “Leaked video shows US military killing of civilians, Reuters staff,” France 24, July 27, 2010, http://www.france24.com/en/20100406-leaked-video-shows-us-military-killing-civilians-reuters-staff
(6) Robert Johnson, “WIKILEAKS: U.S. Fought to Lower Minimum Wage in Haiti So Hanes and Levis Would Stay Cheap,” Business Insider, June 3, 2011, http://www.businessinsider.com/wikileaks-haiti-minimum-wage-the-nation-2011-6
(7) Gregory White, “This is the Wikileak That Sparked The Tunisian Crisis, Business Insider, January 14, 2011, http://www.businessinsider.com/tunisia-wikileaks-2011-1
(8) Daniel Tencer, “Cables: FBI trained Egypt’s state security ‘torturers,” The Raw Story, February 9, 2011, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/02/09/cables-fbi-trained-egypt-torturers/
(9) Gerri Peev, “Hillary Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on UN leaders,” The Daily Mail, November 29, 2010, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1333920/WikiLeaks-Hillary-Clinton-ordered-U-S-diplomats-spy-UN-leaders.html
(10) “Japan Earthquake 2011: WikiLeaks Reveals Government Warned About Nuclear Plant Safety in 2008,” Huffington Post, March 16, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/16/japan-earthquake-nuclear-warning-wikileaks_n_836529.html
(11) “Cable reveals US behind airstrike that killed 21 children in Yemen,” The Raw Story, December 2, 2010, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/12/02/cable-reveals-airstrike-killed-21-children-yemen