Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are names that flutter through the media with tales of dangerous secrets and government persecution. Why is it so dangerous for the public to know what government is really doing in their name? Are the secrets revealed by Army Private Bradley Manning worth holding him in solitary confinement with 20 minutes of sunlight a day while awaiting trial? Julian Assange has become a political refugee who has been granted asylum in Ecuador to avoid U.S. prosecution over the leaks. Both men fear being put to death by the U.S. to protect further secrets.
WikiLeaks first appeared on the scene revealing a number of documents on government corruption. The first splash revealed much of the daily world of United Nations missions. In January 2006 the United Nations began an investigation of 217 allegations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers in the Congo. On several occasions multiple witnesses identified the same peacekeeper from the photographic arrays and provided testimony to corroborate each other’s evidence. Most witnesses also described themselves as victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. Not a single peacekeeper admitted that he had engaged in sexual relations with any Congolese girls. Only one allegation seems to have been substantiated by the investigation. At least ten cases resulted in a child but did not lead to paternity testing. The report suggests a zero tolerance policy for this behavior and “providing recreational and related welfare outlets for troops”. In another report on conditions in the United Nations Kosovo office titled Allegations of Sexual Exploitation/Rape (No. 0215/04) states “Several female staff members were forced into sexual relations with the staff member driven by threats to their continuing employment at the airport”. Although several females complained they were required to provide corroborating evidence to have the matter turned over to judicial authorities the matter was closed. These reports like many were redacted and kept from the public, possibly to protect the reputation of those involved and the missions they were part of.
WikiLeaks seems to have inspired Private Bradley Manning to release evidence of the ground situation in Iraq showing a U.S. helicopter strike on two employees of Reuters news agency whose cameras seem to have been mistaken for weapons. When others arrived to help the wounded military fired on them including two youths. Reuters requested the footage under Freedom of Information Act but were denied access. Civilians killed by coalition troops and airstrikes are frequently denied by the U.S. Military. However documents that Manning leaked tell another story. The role of civilian contractors in deaths is detailed leading to further protests of companies like Blackwater, who was ordered to leave Iraq. One incident shows the U.S. military firing on people after they had surrendered. With the leaks increasing the evidence of civilian casualties and deaths in the Iraq war the death toll approaches 60%.
In a democracy where government is “by the people” many question the need for such secrecy. The claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq seem to have been disproven with possible U.S. retaliation against a weapon inspector who provided information to the public in the Valerie Plame incident. Richard Smith, the local Phoenix chapter leader of Veterans for Peace, notes the change of the War Department to the Department of Defense as a way of trying to change public perception of U.S. actions. Veterans for Peace is an international group made up of veterans who served with honor but having seen the cost of war firsthand feel peaceful solutions is a far preferable world policy. Their efforts have earned them little attention in the U.S. media. To find new youth willing to serve some believe the U.S. distorts the view of war with recruitment TV ads, in comic books and military recruiters can be found at the mall and high schools. At the same time the anti-war view has no equal time even though it represents a significant part of the U.S. population. Richard Smith and other Veterans for Peace members volunteer their time to speak to students about what war is really like in an attempt to help students understand what they are really becoming involved with. Cases like Bradley Manning show a young man who seems to have regretted joining the military after he saw the number of civilians being killed and thus his work with WikiLeaks to expose the truth.