How the Military Destroys the Lives of Soldiers Who Try to Tell the Truth
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Last week, Representative Mike Rogers called for the execution of military whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning. His crime? Sharing the “Collateral Murder” video and the classified Afghanistan “war logs” with Wikileaks, which exposed the truth behind the failing war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s cooperation with the Taliban, and potential war crimes. The 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst said he felt it was "important that it gets out...I feel, for some bizarre reason...it might actually change something.” He is currently in jail at Quantico, on suicide watch, and is facing up to 52 years in prison for exposing information the American public has the right to know.
“The government is engaging in selective prosecution to ensure that employees keep their mouths shut,” says Stephen Khon, a lawyer specializing in whistleblowing cases. “All of a sudden the whistleblower becomes public enemy number one. There is no proportionality.”
Manning leaked the information anonymously with the assurance that his name would never be released, but all the same he has been accused of seeking his “15 minutes of fame.” Manning specifically said, “I just want the material out there...I don't want to be a part of it.” His name only became known after hacker-turned-reporter Adrian Lamo ratted him out. Before going to Wikileaks, Manning tried, unsuccessfully, to report the information to his officer. He explained that he “immediately took that information and ran to the officer to explain what was going on…he didn’t want to hear any of it…he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding more detainees….” Yet now he is being denounced for not handling the matter internally.
Regardless of whether he is found guilty and sentenced to prison, Manning’s life will be irreparably destroyed. “If you are deemed a whistleblower in the Army, there is a very good chance of it ruining not only your career but your life,” says David Debatto, a U.S. Army counterintelligence special agent who saw several such instances while serving in Iraq in 2003. Manning was already "pending discharge" when he made the complaints, but now, even if he isn’t charged, he will most likely be dishonorably discharged. This will mean a loss of all benefits and difficulty getting a decent civilian job, a bank loan or a lease.
Manning is not the first such military whistleblower to face serious repercussions and retaliation; not just from the military, but from the government, fellow soldiers, friends back home and even the general public and the media. The military is infamous for trying to silence soldiers who speak out against the war. Each whistleblower who is publicly denounced and punished acts as a prohibitive warning silencing any other soldiers contemplating coming forward.
Blowing the whistle while overseas is particularly risky. You are completely under the control of the military. As of mid-2008, almost 3,000 soldiers have filed complaints with the Inspector General’s office for retaliation against them when they tried to expose information. That number does not include the multitudes who were too intimidated —or simply too despondent — to make reports. At their own discretion, commanders can enact "non-judicial punishments," such as imposing a diet of bread and water, enforcing longer work hours, and requiring intensive physical activity like hauling sandbags or running for hours in full gear. Soldiers can refuse such punishment, but the other option is trial by court martial for the alleged offense.
There have been reports of soldiers being physically threatened and put in dangerous situations without their weapons. There is fear of being “suicided” or “accidentally” killed by friendly fire. Some soldiers have ended up in psychiatric hospitals. In June 2003, Sergeant Frank Ford, working as a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard 223rd Military Intelligence battalion, reported five instances of torture and detainee abuse that he witnessed. They included asphyxiation, mock executions, lit cigarettes being forced into a detainee’s ears, and arms being pulled out of sockets.