WikiLeaks has released a new trove of documents, more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976, which they have dubbed “The Kissinger Cables,” after Henry Kissinger, who in those years served as secretary of state and assistant to the president for national security affairs.
One cable includes a transcribed conversation where Kissinger displays remarkable candor: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”
While the illegal and the unconstitutional may be a laughing matter for Kissinger, who turns 90 next month, it is deadly serious for Pvt. Bradley Manning. After close to three years in prison, at least eight months of which in conditions described by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Manning recently addressed the court at Fort Meade: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
These words of Manning’s were released anonymously, in the form of an audio recording made clandestinely, that we broadcast on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. This was Bradley Manning, in his own voice, in his own words, explaining his actions.
He testified about the helicopter gunship video that he released to WikiLeaks, which was later made public under the title “Collateral Murder.” In stark, grainy black-and-white, it shows the gunship kill 12 men in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, with audio of the helicopter crew mocking the victims, celebrating the senseless murder of the people below, two of whom were employees of the Reuters news agency.
Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
Reuters had sought the video through a Freedom of Information request, but had been denied. So Manning delivered the video, along with hundreds of thousands of other classified electronic documents, through the anonymous, secure online submission procedure developed by WikiLeaks. Manning made the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and changed the world.
The WikiLeaks team gathered at a rented house in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare the video for public release. Among those working was Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. She told me: “When I saw the video in February 2010, I was profoundly moved. I was moved to tears, like many people that watch it. But at the same time, I understood its significance and how it might be able to change our world and make it better.”
Jonsdottir co-founded the Icelandic Pirate Party, a genuine political party springing up in many, mostly European countries. A lifelong activist, she calls herself a “pixel pirate.”
The “Collateral Murder” video created a firestorm of press attention when it was first released. One of the soldiers on the ground was Ethan McCord, who rushed to the scene of the slaughter and helped save two children who had been injured in the attack. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He recently penned a letter of support for Bradley Manning, writing: “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.”
In the three years since “Collateral Murder” was released in April 2010, WikiLeaks has come under tremendous pressure. Manning faces life in prison or possibly even the death penalty. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent a year and a half under house arrest in Britain, until he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has remained since June 2012, fighting extradition to Sweden. He fears Sweden could then extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury may have already issued a sealed indictment against him. Private details from Jonsdottir’s Twitter and four other online accounts have been handed over to U.S. authorities.
WikiLeaks’ latest release, which includes documents already declassified but very difficult to search and obtain, is a testament to the ongoing need for WikiLeaks and similar groups. The revealed documents have sparked controversies around the world, even though they relate to the 1970s. If we had a uniform standard of justice, Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger would be the one on trial, and Bradley Manning would win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.