By Marjorie Cohn
Monday, 03 June 2013
The court-martial of Bradley Manning, the most significant whistleblower case since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, has begun. Although Manning pled guilty earlier this year to 10 offenses that will garner him 20 years in custody, military prosecutors insist on pursuing charges of aiding the enemy and violation of the Espionage Act, carrying life in prison. The Obama administration, which has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all prior presidencies combined, seeks to send a strong message to would-be whistleblowers to keep their mouths shut.
A legal duty to report war crimes
Manning is charged with crimes for sending hundreds of thousands of classified files, documents and videos, including the “Collateral Murder” video, the “Iraq War Logs,” the “Afghan War Logs” and State Department cables to Wikileaks. Many of the things he transmitted contain evidence of war crimes.
The “Collateral Murder” video depicts a US Apache attack helicopter killing 12 civilians and wounding two children on the ground in Baghdad in 2007. The helicopter then fired on and killed the people trying to rescue the wounded. Finally, a US tank drove over one of the bodies, cutting the man in half. These acts constitute three separate war crimes.
Manning fulfilled his legal duty to report war crimes. He complied with his legal duty to obey lawful orders but also his legal duty to disobey unlawful orders.
Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states, “Every violation of the law of war is a war crime.” The law of war is contained in the Geneva Conventions.
Article 85 of the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach. The firing on and killing of civilians shown in the “Collateral Murder” video violated this provision of Geneva.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions requires that the wounded be collected and cared for. Article 17 of the First Protocol states that the civilian population “shall be permitted, even on their own initiative, to collect and care for the wounded.” That article also says, “No one shall be harmed . . . for such humanitarian acts.” The firing on rescuers portrayed in the “Collateral Murder” video violates these provisions of Geneva.