Moments prior, the troops in the Apache helicopter had opened fire, killing several people, some possibly armed, standing in the Baghdad suburb’s street. A lone survivor began to crawl away, but when a van pulled up to load him, the helicopter opened fire again, killing the newcomers and the wounded man and injuring two children inside.
Afterward, it was revealed that two of those killed in the July 2007 attack were Reuters employees on assignment.
Two years later, U.S. Army intelligence analyst and Crescent native Pfc. Bradley Manning watched the footage, which later became known as the “Collateral Murder” video, filmed from the helicopter and stored on the U.S. Department of Defense’s computer network.
“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 wrote, according to chat logs published by Wired.com.
After finding the GPS coordinates of the attack and confirming the shooting via a New York Times article, Manning realized he had access to a video being sought after by several freedom of information advocates and news organizations.
“I kept that in my mind for weeks… probably a month and a half… before I forwarded it to (WikiLeaks),” he wrote.
Manning is accused of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks, a website now in the process of publishing more than a quarter-million U.S. Department of State cables. The oftentimes frank assessments of foreign leaders and dignitaries have caused an international uproar, and some of the cables contain information about critical infrastructure abroad that, if destroyed by a terrorist attack, would be harmful to the United States and other countries. WikiLeaks, which has had problems staying online, continues to publish to the Internet hundreds of thousands of documents.
The 23-year-old Manning, currently being held at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va., is also considered a person of interest in the leaking of other material to WikiLeaks, including confidential Afghanistan war documents. Who is this controversial figure from Crescent, and why would he allegedly leak classified documents?
Manning was born Dec. 17, 1987, in Crescent, where he attended grade school and middle school before moving to Britain with his Welsh mother, following his parents’ divorce. His father, who reportedly worked in Oklahoma City, could not be reached for comment.
In the Wired chat logs, Manning states he was raised Catholic, but “never believed a word of it” and had custommade dog tags that said “Humanist.”
“I’m godless… I guess I follow humanist values though,” he wrote, stating he was “the only non-religous (sic) person in town,” and that there were “more pews than people” in Crescent.
There aren’t a lot of people in Logan County who remember Manning. Most of those teachers are either retired or dead, said Crescent High School Principal Rick McCombs, who also retired in early December.
A small-framed boy, Manning played saxophone and was on the middle school academic team, McCombs said. The teen left Crescent on Nov. 12 of his eighth-grade year.
“Until all of this took place, it was the last we heard or thought of it,” McCombs said. “He was never a discipline problem; there were not recognizable discipline issues. In some regards, he was a very much academic-oriented person. It’s a little unusual to see a seventh-grader on a middle school academic team, because those are traditionally eighth-grade students, so he was very intelligent.”
McCombs said he seemed to express opinions openly, but not doggedly.
“Basically in our world, he was a typical middle school student — an A and B student,” he said.
McCombs said opinions vary about the controversial figure. For the most part, current Crescent residents don’t remember him, don’t care or want to hang him from the rafters.
“We just don’t have that memory of Bradley in trying to relate him from Crescent to what he’s done,” he said. “Had he graduated from Crescent, had he been from one of the families that (is) still around, then you have a whole different ball game. If found guilty, I think for the most part, most people in the community would say he deserves what he gets.”
Manning eventually moved back to the United States, where he reportedly lived with his aunt in Potomac, Md. In October 2007, Manning was admitted into the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
It was in Iraq that Manning became disillusioned with his military involvement, according to the Wired chat logs.
“Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently,” Manning wrote. “I don’t believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore… only a plethora of states acting in self interest… with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless.”
Manning also wrote he felt “like an abused work horse” who was “regularly ignored… except when i had something essential… then it was back to ‘bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.’” It wasn’t just job disillusionment that Manning was facing. According to several media reports, Manning, who was openly gay, had a series of setbacks, including a breakup with his boyfriend.
He had also been demoted after allegedly striking another soldier, according to The Washington Post.
Manning said in chat logs excerpted by the Post that he felt isolated and his career was not on the right path.
“My family is non-supportive … im losing my job … losing my career options … i dont have much more except for this laptop, some books, and a hell of a story,” Manning wrote.
Manning’s attorney David Coombs, said on his website that Manning’s supervisors documented a steady decline in his mental stability starting around December of 2009. Because of this, Manning’s supervisor decided to remove the bolt from Manning’s weapon, Coombs said, and his supervisor expressed concern that Manning may have been suicidal.
In May, Manning reached out to computer expert Adrian Lamo, known for hacking into the networks of companies, including The New York Times.
From the May 21-25 chat logs between Lamo and Manning, provided by Lamo to Wired magazine and The Washington Post, Manning appeared to do most of the talking.
“If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?” Manning asked Lamo in one of their earlier exchanges, according to the Wired chat logs.
The logs indicate that over the course of several days, Manning told Lamo about leaking the “Collateral Murder” video to WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange in 2006, and a host of other State Department documents.
In their correspondence, Manning and Lamo lamented the state of the military’s network security, with Manning stating that the system was “a perfect example of how not to do INFOSEC (information security).”
He also told Lamo about how he pretended to be listening to a Lady Gaga CD while burning the data onto a disk.
“So… it was a massive data spillage… facilitated by numerous factors… both physically, technically, and culturally,” Manning wrote in the Wired chat logs. “Listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while (exfiltrating) possibly the largest data spillage in american history … pretty simple, and unglamorous … weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis… a perfect storm.”
In some regards, he was a very much academic-oriented person.
At one point, Manning wrote that if he were “someone more malicious,” he could have sold the information to Russia or China and “made bank.” Lamo asked him why he didn’t.
“Because it’s public data,” Manning replied. “It belongs in the public domain … Information should be free … because another state would just take advantage of the information … try and get some edge … if (it’s) out in the open… it should be a public good.”
According to the logs, Lamo asked Manning what he would do if he was discovered, to which Manning replied that he would “try and figure out how i could get my side of the story out … before everything was twisted around to make me look like Nidal Hassan (the accused Fort Hood shooter).”
After the exchanges, Lamo reported Manning to the FBI, Wired reported.
Manning was arrested May 26 and held at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
Manning spent about two months in custody in Kuwait in solitary confinement before being transferred to the brig at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, according to the Army.
On July 5, two charges consisting of 12 specifications under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) were brought against Manning.
The first charge accuses the Crescent native of violating Army regulations by transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second charge, which includes eight specifications, accuses Manning of violations of the U.S. Criminal Code by communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source, disclosing classified information concerning the national defense and for exceeding authorized computer access to obtain classified information from a U.S. department or agency.
Manning’s attorney said this case is currently awaiting an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury hearing, where investigating officers present findings and recommendations that the chain of command will consider in their decision whether to refer the case to a trial by court-martial.
A day in the life
Coombs wrote on his website that Manning’s confinement conditions are “harsh” and said he plans to file an Article 13 motion in Manning’s case. Article 13 of the UCMJ safeguards against unlawful pretrial punishment.
The court-martial defense attorney said Manning, who is being held in maximum custody, is under “prevention of injury” watch in a cell about 6 feet wide and 12 feet long with a bed, a drinking fountain and a toilet. Under these conditions, Coombs said, Manning must remain in his cell for around 23 hours a day and is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets.
Manning’s only exercise is one hour outside of his cell daily in an empty room, and he is only allowed to walk. “Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour,” Coombs wrote. “If he indicates that he no long(er) feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.”
He has been held in solitary confinement or under prevention of injury status for about seven months.
The group Courage to Resist, which supports military objectors, set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, which is raising money for Manning’s legal defense and to pay for visitors’ travel expenses. The group is encouraging people to take part in protests.
“We believe Bradley is clearly being held in pretrial conditions that amount to punishment,” said Jeff Paterson, project director for Courage to Resist and Bradley Manning Support Network steering committee member.
Paterson said Manning’s spirits are lifted by a few visitors, and that the group supports him because it feels Manning acted out of conscience.
“He is a young man who came across things in his role as military analyst that he thought the American people deserved to see,” Paterson said.
Called a “political prisoner” by Assange, Manning has received both praise and criticism.
The Berkeley, Calif., City Council considered a resolution honoring him as a hero (though the measure was tabled pending the outcome of his case) and filmmaker Michael Moore and the source of the Pentagon Papers leak, Daniel Ellsberg, have both defended Manning’s alleged actions.
Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, along with some congressmen, said the leak’s source should be executed for treason.
“If they won’t charge him with treason, they ought to charge him with murder,” U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) reportedly said.
Columnist Deroy Murdock, a media fellow at Stanford University, went further.
“If convicted, he should be placed against a wall and executed by firing squad,” Murdock said.
The chat logs published by Wired and The Washington Post may hold some clues. When Lamo asked Manning about his “endgame plan,” he responded: “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public … if I knew then, what I knew now … kind of thing … or maybe I’m just young, naive, and stupid…” “Which do you think it is?” Lamo asked.
“I’m hoping for the former,” Manning answered. “It can’t be the latter. Because if it is … we’re fucking screwed (as a society) and I don’t want to believe that we’re screwed.”