Bradley Manning wept.
35 years in prison. For trying to open eyes. That’s a whole lifetime for showing America its war crimes. War crimes like the massacre of a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two children on July 12, 2007.
On that date in the fall of the American republic, an Apache helicopter patrolling the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad opened fire, of course, only after getting permission from headquarters. The gunner gleefully shot two photojournalists, who worked for Reuters.
The helicopter’s radio transmission captures the sounds of a soldier insane drunk on murder, dehumanizing his targets with cold-blooded laughter. He wasn’t always a crazed killer. He won’t always be a crazed killer.
It’s what war does. It turns men into monsters. We knew this before George Bush invaded Iraq. We knew this when Wilson brought America into World War I. We knew it when the scales fell from St. Paul’s eyes on the road to Damascus.
The gunman probably grew up a nice boy somewhere in middle America,his parents thought him a good son. He probably played football, and beat up nerds in high school. Maybe he was a boy scout and earned Eagle Scout for cutting a trail through woods next to a retirement home.
Maybe he was a God-fearing man who thought of tattooing John 3:16 on his arm until he got a girl pregnant and she had an abortion. His folks made him join the military to straighten himself out. He didn’t think God would forgive him. He couldn’t forgive himself.
In Bizarro America, the military turns our anguished boy into our felonious helicopter gunman. He will soon return to America and settle back into life, maybe as a cop back in that small town where he still mourns over the girl he threw away.
He’s cocky as hell during the killing, “All right, hahaha, I hit em”, but he will never escape what he did. He’ll end up one of the military’s suicide. 349 vets killed themselves in 2012, about one a day. Our mentally wounded warriors kill themselves faster than Al Qaeda can kill them. It’s crazy.
Or he’ll end up drunk, stable enough in his PTSD and homicidal guilt that he just abuses his wife and kids and friends and the people he arrests.
Bradley Manning must have made the gunman weep: weep at the sound of his own horrible voice, weep at the sound of his cursed soul wailing for eternity in damnation, weep at the violation of the sanctity of this existence, weep with Jesus in John 11:35.
I have to believe that the gunner knew what he did was wrong, but did it anyway, the same way the bored teens in Nebraska who killed the Aussie baseball player knew what they did was wrong, but did it anyways, because they thought they could.
Contrast the inhumane slaughter from above with the reality on the ground: a van, driven by a brave Iraqi man, rushed into bloodshed to rescue the two journalists. The gunman opened fire again and said “Look at those dead bastards.”
Bradley Manning made me weep when I watched the collateral murder video for the first time. Reuters had been trying to get the video under the toothless Freedom of Information Act, but never saw it until Bradley Manning freed the information and Wikileaks published it on April 5, 2010.
On July 6, 2010, the Obama Administration arrested Manning, then 22, for releasing the video. So, commit a war crime: zero years in prison. Liberate film documenting American war crimes and publish it: 35 years.
Bradley Manning made Barack Obama sweat and curse. President Obama won’t prosecute the Bush Administration for war crimes, because Obama has stained his own presidency with the blood of innocents.
Barack Obama had to know about the military’s torture of Manning at Quantico. So much public attention came to it. In this internet age, the military fiends cannot hide. When some brave soul shines a light on their dark heinous crimes against the spirit of life, they react with fury and unimaginable gall.
How will we ever prosecute Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush for their heinous crimes? I’d say Mr. Carter, too, because he wasn’t a saint, but in the past three weeks, Mr. Carter has redeemed himself. As an elder statesmen, he has a platform the oligarchs won’t give Nader or Chomsky: “America does not have a functioning democracy at this time,” Carter said.
If I repeated myself from last week’s column with that quote, I don’t care. It needs to be said, many, many, many more times than my two repetitions. In Egypt now, Sharif Kouddous reported the revolutionaries say “Despair is betrayal” when times get tough.
Times haven’t gotten tough here in the United States. A few of us have suffered light recriminations. Manning’s 35 years is less of a sentence than those executed by the Boston bombing.
But it’s still not like Egypt, where the military junta is stacking bodies of non-violent political opponents like cord wood, only in refrigerated trailers. Thousands of dead with American money. Or did the US military cut aid to Egypt? Who can tell? The stories go both ways.
Bradley Manning should make all of us weep, weep at the hard times that we have seen, and weep at the hard times to come. We cannot let Bradley Manning waste in prison for the rest of his life. Bradley Manning is a hero.
Bradley Manning hasn’t even lived 35 years of his life yet. Thirty five years is the equivalent of a lifetime. It’s seven-eighths of 40 years. But Manning’s 35 year sentence comes with a clean conscience, unlike that of our gunman. Eugene Debs would be proud of young Bradley Manning.
Bradley Manning turns 26 on December 17, 2013. He was born in the twilight of Reagan’s golden years, when there was still some accountability for international law breakers. The Beltway knew some restraint back when Bradley Manning was still in swaddling clothes, but not where it is now.
Back then, the system convicted Oliver North and gave him three years’ suspended sentence for helping to clandestinely sell arms to the Iranians and diverting the proceeds to help support massacres in Central America.
North now has a talk show on Fox News. How many died because of North? Who can tell? But there was at least a trial. No one died because of Bradley Manning. Yet he is the one punished for revealing Collateral Murder, while the “good shot” gunman walks free, yet haunted by the dogs of war.
We must not give up hope that one day justice will catch the death squads and their leaders despite the seemingly insurmountable odds against us. The oligarchs have skewered every system under the bizarro logic of corporate capitalism. The oligarchs are locking the doors of the courthouse and the electoral system and shutting us out of their economies and stealing the planet from us and our descendants.
How it will come, this massive, sweeping change that will exonerate Bradley Manning, and release Julian Assange, and allow Gleen Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden back to their home country, how equality will flow from the mountaintop, I know not.
But when the river of justice runs down the valleys, and Bradley Manning is free, free to sit beside the river and swat flies and watch the trees sway in the breeze, it will make Bradley Manning and all of us weep again.