During the first day of the sentencing phase of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s trial yesterday, a military judge heard testimony about names of local nationals revealed in the “Afghanistan War Logs” Manning disclosed to WikiLeaks and whether anyone had been killed as a result of their name being disclosed.
The government initially tried to slip testimony suggesting Manning’s disclosure had resulted in the death of someone past Judge Army Col. Denise Lind.
Retired Brigadier General Robert Carr, who served as the chief of the Information Review Task Force (IRTF) that responded to information published by WikiLeaks at the request of then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, took the stand. Carr was asked by military prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, if anyone was actually harmed.
Carr said, “As a result of the Afghan logs, I only know of one individual” who was killed. That “Afghan national had a relationship with the US government, and the Taliban came out publicly and said they killed him as a result of him being associated with the information in those logs.”
Maj. Thomas Hurley of the defense stood up and objected. He asked if this person is even in the information that Manning was convicted of releasing.
To this, Lind asked, “Is what you’re testifying to tied to the disclosures?” Carr answered the Taliban killed him and then tied him to the disclosures. The name was not in there.
“It was a terrorist act on behalf of the Taliban threatening all others out there,” Carr added. The name was not in the disclosures.
The government was trying to hold Manning responsible for using the “war logs” as propaganda to justify killing someone, but the judge said at the end of the open session that she would disregard all testimony on the Taliban killing someone who was not named in the disclosures.
At another point in the proceedings, Carr was asked by Hurley if there was ever any report that anyone in the “war logs” was ever killed. There were 900 names in the disclosed reports, but Carr said that “many of the names in there were people already dead” and spanned a long period of time.
“What I don’t have is a specific example of somebody tying this to this to this and he died as a result of it other than the one individual I talked about earlier,” Carr stated. In other words, nobody in Afghanistan died as a result of the disclosure of military incident reports to WikiLeaks by Manning.
There apparently were no human intelligence (HUMINT) sources or informants listed in the “war logs,” according to Carr, but there were names of people that had “cooperative relationships” with US personnel. At the time their names were entered into a report, none were HUMINT source but later some were developed into HUMINT sources.
The significance of this testimony is that Manning—and WikiLeaks—were accused of having blood on their hands after the release of the “Afghanistan War Logs.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a news conference at the Pentagon, on July 29, 2010, “Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
The Associated Press reported in August that the Taliban was “scouring the tens of thousands of leaked documents mostly raw military intelligence reports for names of Afghans who sided with the US and NATO against the insurgency.” Then-Representative Jane Harman said the “leak amounted to handing the Taliban an ‘enemies list.’” Rep. Rush Holt suggested “defectors from the Taliban who were interrogated and then released” could very well be “in danger of assassination by other insurgents.”
By October 17, 2010, however, Gates reported there hadn’t been a “single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak.” Days before, then-Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told press, “We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents.”
But, the comments by US government officials had their intended impact. The comments undermined the release by putting the focus on individuals allegedly at risk instead of what they showed about the war in Afghanistan that was not previously known. The comments etched into the minds of Americans the idea that innocent people had died as a result of the disclosure of the war logs.
Fear-mongering overshadowed the revelation that an assassination squad, Task Force 373, was operating in Afghanistan. It kept classified lists of enemies. The squad had gone on a mission on June 17, 2007, to target “prominent al Qaeda functionary Abu Laith al-Libi.” The squad staked out a “Koran school where he was believed to be located for several days.” An attack was ordered. The squad ended up killing seven children with five American rockets. Al-Libi was not killed.
What about the nature of warfare? What about the reality that innocents are always at risk in conflict? To what extent was the military using the “war logs” to cover for the fact that, as the military calls it, “collateral damage” could occur as it always does in war zones?
Once again, it is proven that government officials will hype up how released information will lead to deaths or cause great damage, even when it is rare for casualties to occur as a direct result or that damage would occur because naturally the military adapts so forces are not vulnerable.
Finally, the evidence that no persons were killed as a result of their names being disclosed should be good for Manning. It is hard to argue for the maximum sentence of ten years for releasing the “Afghanistan War Logs” if no innocent civilians died. A remaining question, however, is whether the Pentagon’s duty to notify people named and the expenses incurred from doing that will play a role in keeping his sentence for this offense closer to ten years.
Illustration by Clark Stoeckley. Used with permission.