Throughout 2002 and early 2003, the American people, still shell-shocked by 9/11, were subjected to virtually endless news stories, print and television, documenting Saddam Hussein’s long trail of tyrannical evils. One of the more chilling Saddam clips that kept surfacing during that jingoistic period was the black and white 1979 Baath Party film of Hussein consolidating his powers. Coolly sitting on stage in an auditorium filled with Baath Party members – and smoking a Cohiba – Saddam called out the dissidents in the bunch, who were then promptly whisked away by Saddam’s thugs to face their final moments under the megalomaniac’s regime.
Some thirty years later, a 22-year-old Oklahoma-born U.S. soldier would reportedly witness another quashing of Iraqi political dissidents. According to published accounts of e-mail correspondence, the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower – most widely known as Bradley, but who came out as transgender to former hacker Adrian Lamo, asking to be called Breanna and signaling a desire to transition to a female identity – was asked by a commanding officer to investigate the jailing of 15 Iraqi political dissidents at the hands of the Iraqi Federal Police. When Manning told the commanding officer that the detainees were merely publishing scholarly criticism of their corrupt prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, the U.S. Army officer not only did not want to hear it, but also told Manning to help the Iraqi Federal Police round up more dissidents for jailing.
It was that demand from the commanding officer that “got” to Pfc. Manning the most and, according to now-published e-mails, made Manning “rethink the world more than anything.”
Though Manning has been treated like a war criminal by the U.S. military, and though the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers (R-MI), called for Manning’s execution, it is the crimes committed during war that prompted Manning to engage in the greatest act of whistle-blowing on U.S. war corruption since Daniel Ellsberg went public with the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg is now one of Manning’s most vocal supporters.
In the now infamous “Collateral Murder” video, one of the first releases from the WikiLeaks trove apparently provided by Manning, one of the U.S. soldiers can be heard saying, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.” The “dead bastards,” it should be noted, were eleven noncombatants, including two Reuters employees covering the war. Needless to say, such bloodlust does not reflect the moral consciousness of the vast majority of our service members. Indeed, one of the U.S. soldiers in the Collateral Murder video, former Army specialist Ethan McCord – a true hero who was carrying wounded children away from the scene of carnage – has come out in support of Manning.
Nonetheless, the U.S. military’s top brass, and their echo chamber in Congress, would like nothing more than for average Americans to believe that Manning is but a ruthless sociopath who must be removed from society. Nothing could be further from the truth: Manning shows signs of having a highly evolved ethical consciousness, even at a young 24 years of age. Mix a highly evolved ethical consciousness with an extreme rebel psyche, which Manning no doubt has, and what you get is a classic whistleblower, not a sociopath.
By providing a bay window for the American people into the ugly realities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Manning has given us an opportunity to reform and evolve a U.S. military culture into one that prizes the sanctity of all human life – not one that merely seeks to minimize “collateral damage.”
Seeking such pro-human life military reforms is our fundamental right as citizens of a free republic.
It ought to be clear by now that what the Iraq War proponents – in government, media, and the think tank world – never seemed to grasp was how they too were fooled by Saddam Hussein – and not just on the non-existent stockpile of WMDs. Much like the vast majority of those Baath Party members who obediently sat in their seats as their countrymen were taken off to be executed, the Iraq War proponents fell for the lie that simply by placing himself in the center of the stage in that auditorium, Saddam somehow made himself center stage in the struggle between good and evil. Nothing could be further from reality.
The moment a person begins to fear evil is the moment he or she will begin to carry out the will of evil, literally becoming evil’s appendage. In that black and white Baath Party film from 1979 it is the audience of Baath Party members who are center stage in the struggle between good and evil, not Saddam. They lived in fear of Saddam, and consequently they became an appendage of his evil regime.
Manning, at 24 years of age, has already endured great suffering in life. For Manning chose not to live in fear of evil and understood, internally, what the acquiescent Baath Party members, and later the Iraq War proponents never did: It is never the thugs, bullies and mass killers of this world who are center stage in the struggle between good and evil.
It’s the rest of us.
Timothy Villareal is a Miami-based writer. He blogs at http://timothyvillareal.wordpress.com