Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He returned last night from attending the pretrial hearing for Bradley Manning.
For the first time, 25-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has admitted to being the source behind the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. More than a thousand days after he was arrested, Manning testified Thursday before a military court. He said he leaked the classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in order to show the American public the "true costs of war." Reading for more than an hour from a 35-page statement, Manning said: "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general." At the pretrial hearing at Fort Meade military base in Maryland, Manning pleaded guilty to reduced charges on 10 counts, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. But even if the judge accepts the plea, prosecutors can still pursue a court-martial on the remaining 12 charges. The most serious of those is "aiding the enemy" and carries a possible life sentence. We are joined by Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He just returned from attending Manning’s hearing. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: For the first time, 25-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has admitted to being the source behind the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history. More than a thousand days after he was arrested, Manning testified Thursday before a military court. He said he leaked the classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in order to show the American public the "true costs of war."
Reading for over an hour from a 35-page statement, Manning said, quote, "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general." He added, quote, "I believed that these cables would not damage the United States. However, I believed these cables would be embarrassing." He said he took the information to WikiLeaks only after he was rebuffed by The Washington Post and The New York Times.
At the pretrial hearing at Fort Meade military base in Maryland, Manning pleaded guilty to reduced charges on 10 counts, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. But even if the judge accepts the plea, prosecutors can still pursue a court-martial on the remaining 12 charges. The most serious of those is aiding the enemy and carries a possible life sentence.
Over the course of the hearing, Bradley Manning took responsibility for leaking the so-called "Collateral Murder" video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq; some U.S. diplomatic cables, including one of the early WikiLeaks publications, the Reykjavik cable; portions of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs; some of the files on detainees in Guantánamo; and two intelligence memos.
For more, we’re joined by Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. He has just returned from attending that pretrial hearing last night for Bradley Manning.
Michael Ratner, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, this is explosive. Bradley Manning stands in court and accepts responsibility for releasing the documents, says he is guilty of doing that.
MICHAEL RATNER: It was one of the more moving days I’ve ever spent in a courtroom. You’ve heard from Bradley Manning once before, which was when he testified about the torture that happened to him. I was crying through that. This was amazing. I mean, he actually didn’t stand; he sat at the defense table. And he read his 35-page statement, which, sadly, we do not have a copy of, even though there’s nothing classified about that statement. And hopefully we’ll get it, because that is something that should be taught in every school in America.
He went through each of the releases that he took responsibility for, that you mentioned on the air, and he told us why he did it. And in each case, you saw a 22-year-old, a 23-year-old, a person of incredible conscience, saying, "What I’m seeing the United States do is utterly wrong. It’s immoral. The way they’re killing people in Iraq, targeting people for death, rather than working with the population, this is wrong." And in each of these—each of these statements tells you about how he was doing it politically.
AMY GOODMAN: Remind us of how he did this. He was actually serving in Iraq as a soldier.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, he was a soldier. He was in—and he goes through that in his statement. He’s an intelligence analyst. And one of the things he worked with, what were called "significant activities reports," which are the daily logs of what’s happening in Iraq and, attached to it, of course, in Afghanistan. And as he read those, I think he became appalled by what he saw: the killings, the targeted assassinations, the fact that people didn’t want the United States there, the fact that we weren’t really helping the country or helping individuals. And he said he wanted to lift the fog of war from it. And he got in touch with various organizations, including WikiLeaks. And that, he talks about. He talks about that. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain. He actually said he didn’t go to WikiLeaks first.
MICHAEL RATNER: No, that’s correct. He first—he had these documents on a disk that he eventually took out of—took out of the special secure room. He actually came to the United States with it. That’s the Iraq war logs and the Afghan war logs. And he tried to get it to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He calls up The Washington Post, has a five-minute discussion with somebody there.
AMY GOODMAN: Does he know who?
MICHAEL RATNER: He doesn’t recall who, or at least didn’t say it. He doesn’t take it—he said they don’t take him seriously, and then he feels he can’t get that. He calls the public editor at The New York Times and leaves a message on the answering machine of the public editor and doesn’t get a call back. He’s then thinking about: "How am I going to get this critical information out? Because I think what the U.S. is doing should be debated in the United States. We’re killing people without cause, essentially."
And then, he has already known about WikiLeaks, because he was aware of WikiLeaks in part because of their release of the text messages or the SMSes from the World Trade Center phones that were there on 9/11. So he’s aware of WikiLeaks. He’s in some communication, by chat or otherwise, with WikiLeaks. And they point him to a site where he can upload, upload the documents.
One interesting point on that is what he mentions about WikiLeaks. Some papers have reported that he said he believes he was in communication with Julian Assange. He actually says it could have been Julian Assange, it could have been someone he calls "Daniel Schmitt," which is probably Daniel Domscheit-Berg from Germany. And he says—and it also says it could have been someone high up in WikiLeaks. He really doesn’t know. And he says, "Whatever I did in this case, I did because I wanted to do it. I was not pressured to do it. I made the decision to do it." So he tries these other media, and ultimately he sees that WikiLeaks has a way of uploading documents that’s anonymous, that he doesn’t know who’s on the other end, and they don’t know who’s on his end.
AMY GOODMAN: He also said he was motivated by the Reuters FOIAs, right? Freedom of the Information Act requests to get the—what came to be known as the "Collateral Murder" video.
MICHAEL RATNER: I mean, when we can get the transcript and put out the quotes of what he said, on that "Collateral Murder" video, which he saw the Reuters journalists killed, then he saw them attack the van that was trying to rescue people, in which children were injured, and he said, "What I heard them say in that helicopter as they were shooting was incredible bloodlust." "Bloodlust," that’s what he said.
AMY GOODMAN: During that pretrial hearing on Wednesday, let’s talk about this, Michael. Bradley Manning spoke about the "Collateral Murder" video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq and admitted for the first time being the source of the leaked tape. Manning said, quote, "The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team happened to have." He added, the soldiers’ actions, quote, "seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass," describing the video as "war porn," saying the crew’s "lack of concern for human life" and "concern for injured children at the scene" greatly bothered him. So, this is the video—it was shot July 12th, 2007—that Manning referenced. It shows U.S. forces killing 12 people, including two Reuters employees. Now, this video is taken by the U.S. military Apache helicopter. It is the camera that’s mounted within the helicopter. You hear the soldiers in the helicopter joking, cursing. And it is showing a target on the men who are walking in an area of Baghdad known as New Baghdad below. Among them, an up-and-coming Reuters videographer named Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: I have individuals with weapons.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: You’re clear.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Alright, firing.
U.S. SOLDIER 3: Let me know when you’ve got them.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Come on, fire!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.
U.S. SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Alright, we just engaged all eight individuals.
AMY GOODMAN: Reuters driver Saeed Chmagh survived that initial attack. He’s seen trying to crawl away as the helicopter flies overhead. U.S. forces open fire again when they see a van pulling up. The van comes to evacuate the wounded, like Saeed Chmagh.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: The bodies.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Where’s that van at?
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Right down there by the bodies.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: OK, yeah.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse. We have individuals going to the scene, looks like possibly picking up bodies and weapons.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Let me engage. Can I shoot?
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Roger. Break. Crazy Horse one-eight, request permission to engage.
U.S. SOLDIER 3: Picking up the wounded?
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage. Come on, let us shoot!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: They’re taking him.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Bushmaster, Crazy Horse one-eight.
U.S. SOLDIER 4: This is Bushmaster seven, go ahead.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Roger. We have a black SUV—or Bongo truck picking up the bodies. Request permission to engage.
U.S. SOLDIER 4: Bushmaster seven, roger. This is Bushmaster seven, roger. Engage.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: One-eight, engage. Clear.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Come on!
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Clear. Clear.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: We’re engaging.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Coming around. Clear.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Roger. Trying to—
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Clear.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: I hear ’em—I lost ’em in the dust.
U.S. SOLDIER 3: I got ’em.
U.S. SOLDIER 2: Should have a van in the middle of the road with about 12 to 15 bodies.
U.S. SOLDIER 1: Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield! Ha ha!
AMY GOODMAN: That is the video that WikiLeaks, when releasing it, dubbed "Collateral Murder," of the July 12, 2007, attack. In that van, by the way, were two children who were critically wounded. Saeed Chmagh was killed. That is the video that we played first when it was released and also interviewed Julian Assange at the time here in the United States, interestingly. Michael Ratner with us, who is Julian Assange’s attorney. So this video Bradley Manning got in downloading, because it’s a U.S. military video, that Reuters, which had asked repeatedly for it, never got until WikiLeaks released it, to know the last seconds of their employees’ lives.
MICHAEL RATNER: Not only did Reuters never get it, Amy, CENTCOM, which is I guess the central part of the Army, basically said, "We don’t think we have the video." And yet, everybody that was in the room with Bradley Manning, everybody knew about the video. It was one of many, many videos. He says in this video—and he said it in court—he said, "What was amazing is, when they—after they hurt these children in the van," he said, "they showed no remorse for the children. And when they saw someone crawling on the ground, they said, 'I hope he picks up a gun,' essentially, 'because we can kill him then.'" So, these people—this was really here a 22- or 23-year-old man watching this. Most people would have said, "Well, I’ll just get through the Army, and that’ll be it." He didn’t, and he’s a hero for that, because what he did is he acted on his moral conscience, and he exposed what the—the war crimes the U.S. was doing.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what does this mean right now? Bradley Manning has pleaded guilty to uploading the largest trove of state secrets in U.S. history to WikiLeaks, which then released them. What does he face exactly?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, he faces a possible 20 years in prison. But the problem here, military is different than our regular courts in the U.S., which is to say that the plea does not have to be accepted by the government or by the judge—
AMY GOODMAN: So why would he have agreed to plead guilty?
MICHAEL RATNER: —or by the prosecutor, really. He did what’s called a "naked plea." His hope, I think, is that when the government sees this and also the support he’ll get for acknowledging what he did and also the reasons and the moral reasons why he did it and the political reasons he did it, that the government won’t go on and try and prove aiding the enemy and the more serious espionage charges. What he really pleaded to was doing actions that were prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the military, by giving documents to someone not authorized or a group not authorized to get them. So he faces 20 years. I think he did it because he was otherwise facing, and he still could be facing, life imprisonment, if not the death penalty. So they’re trying to figure out—
AMY GOODMAN: Because? Life imprisonment for?
MICHAEL RATNER: For espionage, as well as the death penalty.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about this charge, aiding the enemy?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, that’s the—
AMY GOODMAN: What is the case for it?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, that’s the craziest. I mean, that’s just saying, because he gave documents to WikiLeaks and they were published by WikiLeaks — and they were published by The New York Times, I should say, and The Guardian and Der Spiegel — that al-Qaeda read those documents, and therefore WikiLeaks was essentially the transmittal means he used to get documents to al-Qaeda. So that the enemy there is al-Qaeda; some would say the enemy is even WikiLeaks, according to the U.S. government. But that’s the claim. It seems like a completely spurious, ridiculous claim. You can go after The New York Times for that every time it publishes and someone from a, quote, "terrorist" group reads those documents. So it’s a nonsensical claim.
But he was facing life. And he made this statement that—you know, I just want to say that whatever people’s images were of Bradley Manning from the newspapers, which have reported on this, you know, disturbed human being, this disturbed individual, this man gave a political statement that should be read, I think, by every American and should certainly be taught in every one of our schools on what the moral obligations are of people in the military to stop, really, a killing machine of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does this mean for Julian Assange? You’re his attorney. You were just recently there once again in London in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he is holed up and granted political asylum by Ecuador but can’t leave the embassy or Britain, the British authorities, will arrest him. The significance of this, Julian Assange, who believes the grand jury empaneled here could indict him for espionage and is afraid of being extradited here?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, there are two things that came out. One is, I would say that Bradley Manning’s testimony put WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the same place that The New York Times would be or The Guardian, which is to say he gave documents or uploaded them to a website that is the equivalent of—you know, with The New York Times getting information about warrantless wiretapping from someone in the U.S. National Security Agency. So I think, in that sense, it tells us that the U.S. should get off his back, that Julian Assange should be getting the support of The New York Times and The Guardian and Der Spiegel, which used all of these—which used all of these documents. So I think it’s actually, in that sense, helpful to Julian Assange.
On the other hand, there were two people who were identified to me as members—as lawyers on the grand jury that’s sitting in—that’s sitting in Virginia. Two of the prosecuting attorneys were there in the court.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, at the pretrial hearing of Bradley Manning.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So they’re there, and you’re there, Assange’s attorney.
MICHAEL RATNER: They’re there, and I’m there. I didn’t have a chance to meet them, because they don’t come out and mix with the rest of us. They’re on the government’s side with—surrounded by camouflaged people. But they were there. And so, that tells us that that grand jury is still active and going on, and that they are still after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. When I say "they," the U.S. government. But for some reason, they’re thinking they can distinguish that from The New York Times and The Guardian. I don’t think they can. And I think it’s—you know, to me, it’s outrageous that The New York Times and The Guardian have not supported one of the people they worked with in revealing these documents.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael Ratner, I want to thank you for being with us, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, returned last night from attending the pretrial hearing for Bradley Manning, who has been in detention now for more than 1,000 days.
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