You could have knocked me over with a feather that the major media was talking about the Bradley Manning trial at all, after years of being confined to the progressive Internet, but although it is important for Manning's treatment in virtual isolation be a focus, the real story is being ignored. Bradley Manning is where he is in the first place because he was reporting a war crime.
No matter what Manning's treatment, many Americans, not always the most big-hearted people, will believe Manning deserved every bit of it unless context is provided. The CNN reports on the trial which have run so far delve no deeper than his complaints about being forced to stand naked, not being allowed to sleep, and being harassed under a bogus "suicide watch" by being asked every five minutes "are you okay?"
Manning wrote to his then friend Adrian Lamo of the Wikileaks video which has since made the news:
"At first glance it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter...No big deal ... about two dozen more where that came from, right? But something struck me as odd with the van thing, and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory. So I looked into it."
Manning was talking about the now-famous video
in which an American Apache helicopter crew is seen firing upon a group of Iraqi men in "New Baghdad" in 2007. Most of the public debate has since centered around the first of two attacks in the video, in which a Reuters journalist is killed.
Manning's eyes were elsewhere, and in perhaps a sad commentary on the rules of engagement at the time, accepted the first attack as "just a bunch of guys getting shot up." It was the second attack, the "van thing," which caught Manning's attention. Manning knew a war crime when he saw one.
In the second attack, unarmed men are attempting to evacuate a wounded man, an act which since the Geneva Convention of 1864 is protected. Article 12 of the Geneva Convention of 1864 states that,
"...Members of the armed forces and other persons (...) who are wounded or sick, shall be respected and protected in all circumstances. They shall be treated humanely and cared for by the Party to the conflict...Any attempts upon their lives, or violence to their persons, shall be strictly prohibited; in particular, they shall not be murdered or exterminated...".
In the second attack a man is seen crawling upon the ground after the first attack, when a van pulls up with men who attempt to evacuate him. The Apache gunner in his bloodlust requests and receives permission to open fire, muttering the words "just pick up a weapon," even though no weapons are anywhere visible near the crawling man. It is in this attack that two children in the van are wounded, whereupon the gunner remarks "that's what they get for bringing their kids to the battle."
These are the children saved by Spc. Ethan McCord, who brings them to a Bradley vehicle after another soldier, upon discovering them, runs away vomiting. A documentary has been made about the shooting featuring McCord which has won the award for Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival, "Incident in New Baghdad."
A perusal of soldier's and veterans blogs shows surprising unanimity even among the battle-hardened. Remarks go roughly: First shooting, tough sh*t. Second shooting, war crime.
If it came out that Manning had been hung upside down and beaten on the soles of his feet, many Americans would conclude it was deserved given the incomplete reporting which merely mentions that Manning is accused of leaking classified documents. This may be part of it, but the fact also remains that Bradley Manning was reporting a clear war crime.
Bradley Manning's "van thing" can be seen starting at about 9 minutes.