Sketch of Manning reading statement in court by Clark Stoeckley

In a military court at Fort Meade, Maryland, Pfc. Bradley Manning pled guilty to unauthorized possession of certain information, to willfully communicating that information to an unauthorized person, WikiLeaks, and that the conduct was “service discrediting” or prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the military.

As part of a thirty-five page statement read in court, Manning mentioned that a fellow soldier in his division, the Tenth Mountain division, had been discussing a video depicting several individuals being engaged by an air weapons team.  The soldier,  Jihrleah Showman, was discussing a “war porn” video depicting combat that was on a T-Drive. Showman and other officers debated whether it violated rules of engagement.

The video “troubled” Manning. He conducted research because he wanted to know what had happened. Through a Google search, he found the event by “its date and general location.” Two Reuters employees had been killed.

He found a story that explained Reuters had requested a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Reuters wanted the video “in order to understand what happened and improve safety practices in combat zones.” Despite a FOIA request, Manning said CENTCOM replied that they could not give a time frame for considering the request and the video might not exist.” The request was still being reviewed, but Reuters had received no written response. The fact that CENTCOM would not “voluntarily release” the video “troubled” him “further.”

The attack had happened because the air weapons team had “mistakenly identified” individuals as a “threat,” Manning stated. The van was not a threat but had “Good Samaritans.”

“Most alarming” was the “bloodlust” of the air weapons team. “They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging.” He was struck by what the soldiers were saying in the audio. Also, one individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety was not helped. “Instead of calling for medical attention,” the soldiers asked for the wounded person to pick up weapons so they could fire at this individual. Manning also mentioned how they called the targets “dead bastards.”

Manning said it was similar to a “child torturing an ant with a magnifying glass.” The crew’s “lack of concern for human life” and “concern for injured children at the scene” greatly bothered him.

He continued to do research and found an article on a book by Washington Post reporter David Finkel called The Good Soldiers. Manning followed Finkel’s account with the video and realized Finkel was quoting “verbatim the aerial communications of the crew.”

Manning read an excerpt from Finkel’s book during his tenure in Iraq and was aghast at the portrayal of the incident. “Reading his account, one would believe it was justifiable payback for a previous attack that led to death of a soldier,” Manning declared.

On the incident in general, he said it was, “All a bit of a mess.” He was “left wondering what all this means and it [burdened] me emotionally.”

Manning searched for the Rules of Engagement annexes and flow chart from the 2007 period and released that, along with the video, to WikiLeaks. The video was provided to WikiLeaks before he was scheduled to redeploy from Iraq. It was released on April 5, 2010.

He said in his statement he hoped the public would be “as alarmed  as me about the content.” He wanted the American public “to know that not all people were targets that needed to be neutralized” but “people living in pressure cooker environment of asymmetrical warfare.” He reflected that Americans had been troubled if not more troubled.

Manning expressed frustration that the Defense Department and CENTCOM would not confirm the authenticity of the video. A superior officer, Cpt. Casey Fulton, had stated to officers the released video from WikiLeaks was not authentic. On February 25, 2010, he emailed Fulton a link to the video on the T-Drive and the video on the WikiLeaks organization so she could compare the two herself.

He burned a CD-RW containing the video, placed a classified sticker on it, wrote “Reuters,” and intended to mail it after he redeployed so they could “have a copy that was unquestionably authentic.”

For more on proceedings today, here’s a post with updates. And here’s a prior report on how the US press failed Manning.