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U.S. Jewish Army Intel Officer Quits over Gaza, Says “Impossible” Not to See Echoes of Holocaust

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Maj. Harrison Mann

We speak with U.S. Army Major Harrison Mann, the first military and intelligence officer to publicly resign over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Mann left his role at the Defense Intelligence Agency after a 13-year career, saying in a public letter explaining his resignation that “nearly unqualified support for the government of Israel … has enabled and empowered the killing and starvation of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians.” Mann submitted his resignation on November 1, just over three weeks into Israel’s assault on Gaza, but his separation from the military became effective last week. “Even in the first weeks after October 7 … it was really clear that they were prepared to inflict huge numbers of civilian casualties,” Mann tells Democracy Now! “I understood that every day that I was going to go into the office, I was going to be contributing to the Israeli campaign.” Mann also explains how his Jewish background impacted his decision to resign, saying that while he was proud to wear the same uniform of soldiers who liberated Nazi concentration camps during World War II, it was “impossible” not to see echoes of the Holocaust in the devastation of Gaza. “Seeing photos of charred bodies and burnt corpses and starved, emaciated children that are from 2023, 2024, not the '40s, it's impossible not to make that connection,” says Mann. “The situations are not perfectly analogous, but the moral similarities were very clear to me.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show with the first military and intelligence officer to publicly resign over the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza. Jewish American Army Major Harrison Mann resigned from his role at the Defense Intelligence Agency after a 13-year career. The DIA is essentially the Pentagon’s CIA.

In a letter explaining his resignation he posted online last month, Mann wrote, quote, “This office does not only inform policy. It facilitates, and, at times, directly executes policy … and the policy that has never been far from my mind for the past six months is the nearly unqualified support for the government of Israel, which has enabled and empowered the killing and starvation of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians. As we were recently reminded, this unconditional support also encourages reckless escalation that risks wider war,” he wrote.

Mann submitted his resignation November 1st, just over three weeks into Israel’s assault on Gaza. His separation from the military became effective last week. Harrison Mann joins us now from Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Harrison, if you can go back to November and talk about what drove you to decide to separate from the U.S. military? You’re a U.S. Army major who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency. And explain exactly what your role was and what the DIA does.

HARRISON MANN: Yes, and thank you for having me.

So, just in terms of what I was seeing, what drove my decision back in October is, even in the first weeks after October 7th with the start of the Israeli air campaign on Gaza, it was really clear that they were prepared to inflict huge numbers of civilian casualties, which they did and which your — you know, a trend your last guest described in really heartbreaking detail. So, there was a very high tolerance and willingness to inflict civilian casualties, which we already saw. We already saw the autoimmune response from U.S. and Israeli adversaries or Iranian proxies in the region, with, I think, the first Houthi attacks starting in mid-October.

And really, beyond those risks and the humanitarian cost, it was really clear, both at the national level and from what I was hearing from the senior leadership in my community, that our support for Israel was going to be really unshakable and unconditional, no matter how many people they killed and how they conducted the war. And my job at the time was assistant to the director of, basically, the Middle East and Africa office for the agency, who is also the official who oversaw the Israel crisis response, so I was very well placed to understand some of the higher-level discussions happening about the war and about U.S. support to the war. And that really left me feeling hopeless that we were going to condition or moderate our aid or our support in any way.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Harrison Mann, I’m wondering if you could talk about, from the perspective of what the Defense Intelligence Agency, the kind of information it was collecting even before the events of October 7th and this new war. To your knowledge, has there ever been a situation like Gaza, where, basically, people were in an open-air prison, where the Israelis essentially controlled all ingress and egress from the territory and were able to cut off any kind of contact with the outside world whenever they wanted to?

HARRISON MANN: Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly been other conflicts, including in our region, where other forces did some level of siege or cut off access to the population they were attacking. And I think the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen against the Houthis, which, until recently, had wound down, was probably the next closest example of a man-made humanitarian crisis cutting off the entry of food and medication while bombing the population.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of what were the — why you decided specifically in the first few weeks, as the conflict began, to resign? What were the main reasons that you felt you had to resign?

HARRISON MANN: I mean, fundamentally, I understood that every day that I was going to go into the office, I was going to be contributing to the Israeli campaign. That was something that DOD was supporting. It was something that DIA was supporting. And I think it’s open that we have a very close intelligence relationship with Israel. And so I was tangentially involved in that. And I kind of got more and more discouraged and hopeless that we were going to stop, U.S. was going to stop, its support. And I understood early on, and was unfortunately validated in this, that nobody was going to come tell me to stop. Nobody at any level in my chain of command, even people who I think were sympathetic to what was happening to the Palestinians, was going to ask me or anybody I worked with to reconsider the support that we were facilitating.

AMY GOODMAN: Harrison Mann, you’re an American Jew, as well as an Army major working at the DIA. How did your Jewish background influence your decision?

HARRISON MANN: My Jewish background, you know, influenced both my service and my decision to leave. I have a very distinct memory of several years ago going to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel on a trip that was actually sponsored and hosted by the IDF. And you go through that museum, and you see all these sights of the Holocaust victims. And then, at the end, there’s this giant blowup photo, that I think is still there, showing a lot of U.S. Army soldiers interspersed with Holocaust camp survivors, and they’re attending a service led by a U.S. Army rabbi after their camp has been liberated. And that, I think, seeing that photo, which I hadn’t seen before, was like one of my proudest moments of my service, understanding that I got to wear the same uniform and be in the same army as the men who liberated that camp.

And today, seeing photos of charred bodies and burnt corpses and starved, emaciated children that are from, you know, 2023, 2024, not the '40s, it's impossible not to make that connection. And I guess it forced me to realize that that’s what I was contributing to in the same uniform, instead of saving those people. And so, I think the situations are not perfectly analogous, but the moral logic was very clear to me, because I’m Jewish.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about more recent events, like this weekend, and as your role as a DIA officer, if you could explain what’s really going on here, talking about the role of U.S. intelligence support in Israel’s war on Gaza. This is national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaking on CNN from Paris.

JAKE SULLIVAN: The United States has been providing support to Israel for several months in its efforts to help identify the locations of hostages in Gaza and to support efforts to try to secure their rescue or recovery. I’m not going to get into the specific operational or intelligence-related matters associated with that, because we need to protect those. I can only just say that we have generally provided support to the IDF so that we can try to get all of the hostages home, including the American hostages who are still being held.

DANA BASH: So, I understand that intelligence, U.S. intelligence, assisted. But will you say anything about U.S. personnel, U.S. weapons?

JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, the one thing I can say is that there were no U.S. forces, no U.S. boots on the ground involved in this operation. We did not participate militarily in this operation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, no boots on the ground, Jake Sullivan says to Dana Bash of CNN. He’s talking about this weekend, when more than 270 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli military operation that freed four Israeli hostages in Nuseirat, in Gaza. Israeli intelligence officials told The New York Times — this is in an article today — that U.S. military officials in Israel provided some of the intelligence about the hostages rescued on Saturday. According to the Times, the Pentagon and the CIA have been providing information collected from drone flights over Gaza, communications intercepts and other sources about the potential location of hostages. While Israel has its own intelligence, the United States and Britain have been able to provide intelligence from the air and cyberspace that Israel cannot collect on its own, The New York Times reports. So, Harrison Mann, talk more about this and what kind of support was, it looks like, provided this weekend. And then go more generally into, well, President Biden more recently said he’s approving a billion dollars more of just outright weapons to Israel.

HARRISON MANN: Yeah, I think the operation this weekend is a kind of unusually public example of the value of intelligence support that the U.S. provides to Israel, which is — you know, we’ve had a long-standing and very strong relationship, and usually it’s not discussed. But I think this weekend we saw how intel support, even if it’s for a goal that I think is nominally, you know, quite — something that’s difficult to dispute, which is rescuing hostages, can nonetheless contribute to operations that kill what looks like a very large number of civilians. And I think it’s also indicative of the value of the intel support that we give Israel. And I just highlight that because that’s the area that I worked in or adjacent to, and it’s another form of valuable support that we give Israel that helps them prosecute this war. And it’s another less discussed form of leverage that we also have over the Israeli government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Harrison Mann, I’m wondering, your moral concerns about what was going on in Gaza, to what extent you shared it with other fellow military or defense intelligence people, and what advice you would have to those in the military or the intelligence community that are still grappling with their ethical concerns.

HARRISON MANN: So, for the first months after I initiated my resignation process, which did not actually conclude until last week, I was really kind of afraid. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about this with anybody, because nobody else was discussing it. And it felt like it was way outside of our norms and outside of what would be culturally acceptable where I worked. But in April, when I finally shared my resignation — my resignation letter with my office, I got really overwhelmingly positive and supportive feedback from the people that I worked with, and I discovered that there were a lot of people who felt pretty much the same way that I did and also felt like they could not openly discuss their concerns. And since I’ve publicized my letter, more people from both my office and elsewhere in the Department of Defense and the military have also reached out.

And, you know, my number one piece of advice, or kind of tough love here, is understanding, again, that nobody is going to tell you to stop. I do not think we are near an end to this conflict, and so you are nowhere near the end of being finally told that you can stop participating in it. And so, understanding that, you then have to realize that moderating your level of support and participation is a choice, the same way that going to work tomorrow and continuing to support the Israeli campaign is a choice.

And I know that what I did is not feasible for a lot of people. I understand that. I know other folks in our line of work who have asked for a transfer or who have asked their supervisor, “Hey, I’m going to keep doing all of the portfolios you give me, but find somebody else for Israel.” I think another possibly effective option is asking for an assurance, in writing, that what you’re doing is both legal and consistent with your organization’s ethical standards and values statements. That’s something I wish I had done, which I think would have given some people pause, because we’re asking each other, we’re asking our subordinates, to do a lot of these things and contribute to this conflict, without really pausing to think about the ethical dimension. And that’s something I’m guilty of, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Harrison Mann, we have —

HARRISON MANN: And just finally — sorry. Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

HARRISON MANN: I would just finally say, if you can’t do that, just start talking about it, and letting somebody that you work with know that they’re not alone might be incredibly valuable in and of itself.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds. What effect did the protests have on you? Do they make it inside?

HARRISON MANN: The campus protests?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

HARRISON MANN: It was further indication about whether or not I was on the right side of history and, you know, how I’d be able to look back at this years from now, which is what helped drive my decision not to be part of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Harrison Mann, Jewish American U.S. Army major, recently resigned from the Defense Intelligence Agency over the Biden administration’s policy in Gaza.

That does it for our show. To see others who have resigned, our interviews, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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