by Ethan McCord
Serving with my unit 2nd battalion 16th infantry in New Baghdad, Iraq, I vividly remember the moment in 2007, when our Battalion Commander walked into the room and announced our new rules of engagement:
“Listen up, new battalion SOP (standing operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!”
We weren’t trained extensively to recognize an unlawful order, or how to report one. But many of us could not believe what we had just been told to do. Those of us who knew it was morally wrong struggled to figure out a way to avoid shooting innocent civilians, while also dodging repercussions from the non-commissioned officers who enforced the policy. In such situations, many of us fired our weapons into rooftops or abandoned vehicles, giving the impression that we were following procedure.
On April 5, 2010, American citizens and people around the world got a taste of the fruits of this standing operating procedure when WikiLeaks released the now-famous Collateral Murder video. This video showed the horrific and wholly unnecessary killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists.
I was part of the unit that was responsible for this atrocity. In the video, I can be seen attempting to carry wounded children to safety in the aftermath. I carried a young girl and a young boy away from the horrible scene. Both were shot and severely wounded. Much later, after WikiLeaks released the video, I saw both of them interviewed on television—they both survived. But they lost their father. The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.
Private First Class Bradley Manning has been confined for nearly two years on the government’s accusation that he released this video and volumes of other classified documents to WikiLeaks, and ultimately to the public.
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from the chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency. These chat logs allegedly describe how PFC Manning hopes these revelations will result in “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”
The contents of the WikiLeaks revelations have pulled back the curtain on the degradation of our democratic system. It has become completely normal for decision-makers to promulgate foreign policies, diplomatic strategies, and military operating procedures that are hostile to the democratic ideals our country was founded upon. The incident I was part of—shown in the Collateral Murder video—becomes even more horrific when we grasp that it was not exceptional. When soldiers have a hard time swallowing the horrors of the realities we are regularly ordered to operate within, we are told to toughen up—and there are repercussions if we don’t.
When I spoke with my sergeant after the incident, he berated me, telling me that I needed to suck it up, and a lot of other horrible things. There aren’t adequate mechanisms for soldiers to take issues higher up the chain of command. Bradley Manning allegedly described (in the chat logs) an incident where he was ordered to turn over innocent Iraqi academics to notorious police interrogators, for the offense of publishing a political critique of government corruption titled, “Where did the money go?” His commander told him to shut up and do his job.
We have to change these kinds of policies and operating procedures. To do so, we need to know the truth about what’s really happening. We need information. That’s why we need whistle-blowers.
We all need to speak out for Bradley. We can’t let our government punish a true hero because they are embarrassed by the truth.
This article originally appeared on bradleymanning.org, the website of the Bradley Manning Support Network.