By Johann Hari
Columnist for the London Independent
Bradley Manning. While we were all fixated on Julian Assange, the story of the young American soldier who actually leaked the classified documents passed almost unnoticed. If Manning was mentioned at all, it was as to be described an impetuous, angry kid who downloaded the documents onto a CD and leaked them as a result of a "grudge" or "tantrum."
Here's what really happened. Manning signed up when he was just 18 believing him would be protecting and defending his country and the cause of freedom. He soon found himself sent to Iraq, where he was ordered to round up and hand over Iraqi civilians to America's new Iraqi allies, who he could see were then torturing them with electrical drills and other implements. The only "crime" committed by many of these people was to write "scholarly critiques" of the occupation or the new people in charge. He knew torture was a crime under US, Iraqi and international law, so he went to his military supervisor and explained what was going on. He was told to shut up and get back to herding up Iraqis.
Manning had to choose between being complicit in these atrocities, or not. At the age of 21, he made a brave choice -- to put human rights before his own interests. He found the classified military documents revealing the US was covering up the deaths of 15,000 Iraqis and had a de facto policy of allowing the Iraqis they had installed in power to carry out torture -- and he decided he had a moral obligation to show them to the American people. To prevent the major crime of torturing and murdering innocents, he committed the minor crime of leaking the evidence. He has spent the last seven months in solitary confinement -- a punishment that causes many prisoners to go mad and which the US National Commission on Prisons called "torturous." He is expected to be sentenced to 80 years in jail at least. The people who allowed torture have faced no punishment at all.
Manning's decision was no "tantrum" -- it was one of the most admirable stands for justice and freedom of 2010. We need to stand by him now and make sure he isn't forgotten. To find out how you can support him, click here.
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