The Right to Know

Bradley Manning Apr 4, 2013

‘This Type of Information Should Become Public’

In a pre-trial hearing on Feb. 28, 2013, 25-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning admitted for the first time to providing hundreds of thousands of U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. He pled guilty to 10 of 22 charges being pressed by military prosecutors. Following are excerpts from his hour-and-a-half long testimony in Fort Meade, Md, in which he explained what he leaked and why:


As I started working with Significant Activities (SIGACTs), I felt they were similar to a daily journal or log that a person may keep. They capture what happens on a particular day and time. They are created immediately after the event and are potentially updated over a period of hours until a final version is published on CIDNE.

For me, the SIGACTs represented the on-the-ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides.

I began to become depressed at the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in, year after year. The SIGACTs documented this in great detail, and provided context to what we were seeing on the ground. In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists, on being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our host-nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions.

I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, 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. I also believed a detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time, by different sectors of society, might cause society to re-evaluate the need, or even the desire to engage in CT and COIN operations that ignored the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment each day.

I felt a sense of relief by them [WikiLeaks] having it [the information]. I felt had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen, read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day.


The video depicted a several individuals being engaged by an Air Weapons Team (AWT). At first, I did not consider the video very special, as I had viewed countless other “war-porn” type videos depicting combat. However, the recorded audio comments by the AWT crew and the second engagement in the video, of an unarmed bongo truck, troubled me.

Using Google, I searched for the event by its date and general location. I found several news accounts involving two Reuters employees who were killed during the AWT’s engagement. Another story explained that Reuters requested for a copy of the video under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Despite the submission of a FOIA request, the news account explained that CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) replied to Reuters, stating that they could not give a timeframe for considering the FOIA request, and the video might no longer exist. Another story I found, written a year later, said that even though Reuters was still pursuing their request, they still did not receive a formal response or written determination in accordance with the FOIA.

The fact neither CENTCOM nor Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MCF-I) would not voluntarily release the video troubled me further. It was clear to me that the event happened because the AWT mistakenly identified the Reuters employees with a potential threat, and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded. The people in the van were not a threat, but “good Samaritans.”

The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have. 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.

At one point in the video, there is an individual on the ground attempting to crawl to safety. The individual is seriously wounded. Instead of calling for medical attention to the location, one of the AWT crew members verbally asked for the wounded person to pick up a weapon so he would have a reason to engage. For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass.


A report was received from a subordinate battalion. The report described an event in which the FP detained 15 individuals for printing “anti-Iraqi” literature…Over the course of my research I found that none of the individuals had previous ties to anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist militia groups.

[The unit interpreter] said the general nature of the document was benign. The documentation, as I assessed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then-current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government and the financial impact of his corruption on the Iraqi people. After discovering this discrepancy between the FP’s report and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery to the TOC OIC and the battle NCOIC.

The TOC OIC and, the overhearing Battle Captain, informed me they didn’t need or want to know this information any more. They told me to “drop it” and to just assist them and the FP in finding out where more of these print shops creating “anti-Iraqi literature” might be. I couldn’t believe what I heard.

I am the type of person who likes to know how things work, and as an analyst, this means I always want to figure out the truth. Unlike other analysts in my section, or other sections within 2-10BCT, I was not satisfied with just scratching the surface, and producing “canned” or “cookie cutter” assessments. I wanted to know why something was the way it was, and what we could do to correct or mitigate a situation. I knew that if I continued to assist the Baghdad FP in identifying the political opponents of Prime Minister al-Maliki, those people would be arrested, and in the custody of this special unit of the Baghdad FP, very likely tortured and not seen again for a very long time, if ever.

Instead of assisting the special unit of the Baghdad FP, I decided to take the information and disclose it to the WLO in the hope that, before the upcoming 7 March 2010 election, they could generate immediate press on the issue, and prevent this unit of the FP from continuing to crack down on political opponents.

At the same time, I began sifting through information from the U. S . Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and Joint Task Force (JTF) Guantanamo, Cuba (GTMO). The thought occurred to me, although unlikely, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the individuals detained by the FP might be turned over back into U.S. custody and ending up in the custody of JTF-GTMO.

I have always been interested on the issue of the moral efficacy of our actions surrounding JTF-GTMO. On the one hand, I always understood the need to detain and interrogate individuals who might wish to harm the U.S. and our allies. I felt that was what we were trying to do at JTF-GTMO. However, the more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew were innocent, low-level “foot soldiers” that didn’t have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still held in theater.

I also recalled that in early 2009, the then-newly-elected president, Barack Obama, stated he would close JTF-GTMO and that the facility compromised our standing in the world and diminished our “moral authority.” After familiarizing myself with the Detainee Assessment Briefs, I agreed.


During this time, I had nothing but work to distract me. I read more of the diplomatic cables published on the Department of State (DOS) Net Centric Diplomacy (NCD) server. With my insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics, I became fascinated with them. I read not only cables on Iraq, but also about countries and events I found interesting. The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think that they documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.

Up to this point during the deployment, I had issues I struggled with and difficulty at work. Of the documents released, the cables are the only one I was not absolutely certain couldn’t harm the U.S. I conducted research on the cables published on NCD, as well as how DOS cables work in general.

The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this type of information should become public. I once read and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War, and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other. I thought these cables were a prime example of the need for a more open diplomacy. Given all the DOS information I read, the fact that most of the cables were unclassified, and that all of the cables had the SIPDIS caption, I believed that the public release of these cables would not damage the U.S. However, I did believe the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations and organizations. In many ways, these cables are a catalog of cliques and gossip. I believed exposing this information might make some within the DOS and others unhappy.

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