Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, wrote an editorial from prison at Ft. Leavenworth that was published over the weekend by the New York Times. Manning outlined the manipulation of media that was committed by the U.S. military.
Manning recounted the injustices she witnessed when it came to the military’s relationship with the American media. Citing “limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy,” we, the American public, have largely been duped by the military about the actual narrative of operations in Iraq.
During the 2010 Iraqi election season, the U.S. military had kept tabs on anyone that opposed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Manning was charged with the task of investigating 15 people whom had been arrested by the federal police on suspicion of publishing “anti-Iraqi literature.” They weren’t terrorists nor were they affiliated with any terrorist groups, but rather, the 15 people Manning was tasked with investigating, she noted, were working on a “scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration.” Not dangerous people, just some academics working on a paper.
Upon making the discovery, Manning kicked the information up to her commanding officer to which he responded to Manning “[I] don’t need this information” and to find more “anti-Iraqi” print shops. These actions by the military are a problem because it potentially muzzles any non-violent, political opposition to Maliki. If we were trying to instill democracy in Iraq, then isn’t one of the mainstays of American democracy that very principle?
The military also greatly tempered what American reporters gained access and what the reporters covered. Limited press access allowed by the military only allowed for 12 American journalists to have embed status at any one time. That’s right. Only 12 reporters were allowed to cover military operations in Iraq, and the military could pull a reporter’s embed status without appeal should the journalist report anything deemed too controversial.
According to Manning, before granting any journalist embed status, the military assesses the likelihood that journalists will write and publish something controversial. If a journalist loses their embed status, they will usually get blacklisted from reporting in Iraq again. So, because getting embedded with a military group during a war is like getting called up to the majors for many reporters, those who are granted embed status will be sure not to do anything that will cause them to lose that.
This embed program, as well as the intelligence ops that Manning was ordered to participate in, gives the military too much leverage in what gets reported from the frontline as well as how it gets reported. Unfortunately, it still operates that way, and military transparency is still but a filthy, murky pond. We should be so lucky to have patriots like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden to create a public dialogue about how our government entities conduct themselves.