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Michael Ratner, American attorney for Julian Assange, reports he was in the courtroom and witnessed Manning speak with confidence and intelligence as he detailed the outrages that drove him to upload the documents to Wikileaks:
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.
Michael is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He's chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He's also the U.S. attorney for Julian Assange. And he's also a board member of The Real News Network.
Thanks very much for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So you spent a hell of a emotional day at a remarkable trial of Bradley Manning today. What happened?
RATNER: I went down to Fort Meade, and it was an all-day affair. Bradley Manning was in the courtroom. Most of the press goes to a theater room, but a few of us—I'm not press—go into the room with Bradley Manning. And it was a special day because it was a day in which Bradley Manning's lawyer and Bradley had decided to plead guilty to certain of the charges, but really lesser included charges, not the top charges of espionage and aiding the enemy and all of that.
But I was devastated by the day emotionally. I was devastated by it. But at the same time, you really saw who Bradley Manning was, what a hero he was, and how when he saw wrong, he basically acted.
Technically what happened today is he pleaded guilty to nine charges. And when you plead guilty in a court, the court wants to make sure you understand what you're doing, the nature of the plea, and asks you to describe what your actions are. And so Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to many of the distribution or the transferring of documents to WikiLeaks, who is my client, all of the documents from the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war logs, "Collateral Murder" video, Department of State cables, the Reykjavik 13 cable, etc.
But what was amazing about this guilty plea to nine charges is the judge allowed him to read a statement that's probably a 30-page statement—it took two or three hours—that really gave you a sense of who Bradley Manning was. And it was an incredibly moving statement. He started out by when he joined the military, and then he described what his first job was in Iraq. And his first job was really compiling and working with something called SigAct, which are significant activities. And those are the daily log reports of what happens in the field. And as he read those reports, he got more and more disturbed by what he saw going on in Iraq, the amount of killings, the number of—the fact that they were killing people on a kill list, he said, rather than helping people. And he thought there should be a serious discussion of counterinsurgency, what it meant, what it meant to really help people instead of hurt them.
At about the same time as he was looking at these and working—this was part of his work, the Iraq War Logs. And of course the Afghan war logs, similar material, were in the same sort of location, so he got to see those as well.
The same time that he's doing this, he's also becoming aware of the organization WikiLeaks, and he's primarily becoming aware of it through the fact that they released—I forgot how many tens of thousands of SMSs, those special—you know, the text messages from people who were in the World Trade Center when it was hit. And that was, I guess, an exposure by WikiLeaks. And then he did some research on WikiLeaks while he was at his computer, and he found out that in 2008 there was a report done by the U.S. government about how to counter WikiLeaks way back in 2008.
So you have these two things going along—him getting disturbed by the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war logs, and then him being in contact, at least, with WikiLeaks.
The first thing that happens is the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan war logs, and what happens is that he gets disturbed by it. He doesn't do anything with it, but he goes to the United States at some point with those logs downloaded onto his computer, I guess, or onto a chip, really, like, a little SD card. And he's in Maryland, and there's a snowstorm. He can't decide what to do with it. He talks to someone who was at least his boyfriend for a while and said, what if you had things that the American people ought to see. The boyfriend is noncommittal. He keeps thinking about it. It keeps bothering him.
And ultimately, when he goes back to Maryland from Boston, he goes into a Barnes & Noble becauses there's a snowstorm and he needs to use their broadband, and he uploads the documents to WikiLeaks. He uploads them through their site where it's an anonymous upload to WikiLeaks. And then he said afterwards, I felt really relieved; I felt that this was something the American people had to see; they had to debate this war; and I hoped, I hoped that the Afghan war logs and the Iraq War Logs would change the situation. So that's the first set of documents.
At the same time, he's then in, of course, correspondence of some sort with WikiLeaks. He doesn't know who's at the other end of the computer. He says at some point, maybe it's Julian Assange, maybe it's someone named Daniel Schmitt, who was the German guy who was at least with WikiLeaks for a while—Domscheit/Schmitt. He doesn't know who it is. He says, it might be other people in WikiLeaks' organization; I don't really know who I was communicating with; it's anonymous.
And then he also says during the course of this day that I was not pressured at all by anybody from WikiLeaks; this was a decision I made on my own.
So the first set of documents, you already see he's very politicized and thinking about people ought to see what the government is doing.
The next big event that happens is the "Collateral Murder" video. People are in his Iraq office, and they're discussing, you know, these videos and did it comply with the rules of engagement or not. And so he decides to go look at it himself. And he sees it, and he's really upset by it, 'cause first he sees what looks like you could argue was a mistake when the two Reuters journalists are killed from what he calls a—whatever it is, an aerial gunship. And then—and he says, well, they mistakenly shot them. And, of course, there's a dispute about whether that was a mistake or whether they should have killed those two Reuters people.
But then a van comes to try and rescue people, and the people in the helicopter fire on the van. And at that point, that's—he thinks that's just outside of the rules of engagement. These people were coming to rescue them. They had no weapons. And then he hears the bloodlust of the people in the helicopter—and that's the word he used, bloodlust. When they saw a guy crawling along the ground who apparently was wounded, they said in the helicopter, we hope he picks up a gun—essentially so they can shoot him.
And he gets very disturbed by this, very disturbed by the fact that it wasn't given to Reuters, even though Reuters asked for it on behalf of their dead journalists in their own organization and that the U.S. government or CENTCOM, the military, said they weren't even sure they had it. And there it was. So that's again him being upset by what he saw and doing something and acting on it. So that's the second thing he pleads guilty to is giving that video, again, uploading it to WikiLeaks. It turns out not to have even been classified, which is interesting. But he gives it to WikiLeaks.
The third incident is with the Iraq police. He's asked to help out with the Iraq police, the Baghdad police, help them identify, you know, insurgents or other things, I think, something like that. At some point, 15 people are turned over to the Iraq police. And he looks into what their case is. He's asked to do that. And the case against them was nothing but putting up posters about the corruption of the government in Iraq. He gets very upset by this because these people are treated badly. He's afraid they're going to be disappeared, and he's even afraid they're going to go to Guantanamo if they're turned back to the United States.
So what he does: he tries to report it to his commanders. They of course—they disregard it. And at that point, he again uploads that to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks does not happen to publish that, but he continues, of course, talking to WikiLeaks about documents that—or at least about continuing to be in touch with WikiLeaks about documents. And that got him intrigued by something he'd been upset by for a while, which is Guantanamo.
What he said in court was, look it, [incompr.] have a right to interrogate people, sure, but Guantanamo really is morally questionable; what we're doing is keeping innocent people there and people who are very low-level, and Barack Obama promised to end it, and I think it just hurts the United States to keep it open. And that got him interested in finding what are called the detainee files, and those are files on each of the detainees in Guantanamo. And then he says when he talked—when he said to WikiLeaks, here's what I'm going to give you, and WikiLeaks says, well, what is it, and then WikiLeaks responded, well, they're old and they're not that political but they're important historically for Guantanamo, and they may help the lawyers as well. So then those get uploaded to WikiLeaks.
And then, of course, the last thing he talked about was the State Department cables. And there was an earlier State Department cable called the Reykjavik 13, which was actually the first document, I think, put up online by WikiLeaks. Reykjavik 13 he got off a website having to do with Iceland. And there was—Iceland during the financial crisis, there was huge pressure by the U.K. and the United States on Iceland to concede to all the bailouts and the austerity program, and Iceland refused. And this cable talked about the pressure that was being put on Iceland by the U.S. And he reacted, Bradley Manning reacted by saying, they're bullying Iceland, and I think this ought to get out; I don't think this kind of stuff should be secret.
And that got him, of course, into the diplomatic cables, which—he read every one on Iraq, he said, and he read them more broadly eventually, and he saw that basically they were hiding criminality and that he believes that that kind of diplomacy hurts the United States, secret diplomacy and that's not out in the public. And then that was the diplomatic cables that were released.
But what you see in each of these incidents is that in each one, he was affected by what he read or what he saw, and deeply affected, and he couldn't really do much with going up the chain of command. He couldn't do much with—what could he do with it? And he decided that the public, the U.S. people, and the world ought to know about it, because they ought to discuss it, and maybe that would change policy.
Now, there were a couple of other very interesting moments. There was a moment when he's back in Maryland about to want to releasing the Iraq and Afghan war logs, and he first tries to get them into another media, not WikiLeaks. He calls up The New York Times public editor and leaves a message on the public editor's website or answering machine, never gets a call back. He calls The Washington Post, and he said The Washington Post really didn't take him seriously. And so he felt that he couldn't do anything with The Washington Post or The New York Times. He said he was looking at some other places to do it. But in the end, because of what WikiLeaks had done in the past, he felt that would be the best way he could do it.
I guess for me sitting in the courtroom and seeing this young man, [incompr.] 22 years old, joined the military—20 years old, and at 22 started to upload documents to WikiLeaks because he was so disturbed, it made you realize what a hero Bradley Manning is. I mean, here he saw what the U.S. military was doing, what they were doing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and what the State Department was doing, and he decided that I should do—that he should do something about it. And, unfortunately, he's going to pay a high price for it. The plea that he took, if—.
Let me just say how the pleas work here. This is not like a plea we see in a regular court. Normally you make a deal with the prosecutor. You go before the judge. There's a maximum sentence, or at least there's a plea to what might be a maximum sentence.
It's not the way this plea worked. This is what the judge referred to as a naked plea, which means he just decided to plead guilty to these nine specifications on his own with his lawyer and detailed what happened. They're not the highest charges. They're charges that cumulatively could give him 20 years. The problem is the prosecutor doesn't have to accept it and can go ahead and still prove the higher charges, using even elements of what Bradley Manning has pled to.
So that's going to be the important thing here. I think it's an important step. He's showing that he took responsibility for his actions. He gave an incredible, really, statement, moving statement about why he did it. And, hopefully, the judge will be moved, and, hopefully, his sentence will reflect what he actually pled guilty to and not the charges that can end up with a life imprisonment for Bradley Manning that the prosecutor wants to pile on. So it was an amazing day in court, Paul.
JAY: Now, he's been kind of depicted to some extent as sort of a weak person, sort of disturbed. What kind of man did you witness?
RATNER: You know, this is—the first time I saw it was when I went to Bradley Manning's hearing, where he actually got on the stand and testified about the abuse and torture that he underwent for almost a year between Iraq and Quantico. And at that point you realized this is not a weak, this is not a disturbed—this is something very different than that. This is a strong person, very intelligent. That came out in the hearing on the abuse, and it came out today.
First, he was obviously very intelligent. I mean, he was put into this high-level computer thing. When you heard him talk about computers, he just knows a heck of a lot.
But in addition, he's a strong person politically about what he thinks, about how he presents himself. He didn't have a weak voice. There was even a couple of funny moments in this very difficult day. At one point, the judge asked him a question, and he couldn't answer without revealing, he said, classified information. So everybody laughed about it, 'cause here he is now actually in the process, when he's asked a question, of protecting classified information from the judge's question. So everybody got a little bit of a laugh out of that.
But of course it's a tough day for Bradley Manning, that he's going to be sentenced to certainly a fairly long-term—hopefully not that long, and, hopefully, they'll accept these charges.
But what I sat there and realized is here you had a 22-year-old person who really acted on what he saw and his belief, and he's going to be someone who we can—.
As a last point here, the 35-page statement or whatever it was was not given to any of us. It was given to the judge, it was given to all these guys in camoflage and everybody else. We didn't get it. It's not because any of it was classified. I heard every word of it. It's because this court doesn't give materials out very readily. And we have lawsuits, the Center has a big lawsuit going on about this. We've gotten them to release a few things. But this document is so important, in my view, I think young people, old people reading this document will be moved to act themselves in a way that will try and make this country really adhere to the rule of law and stop being the killing machine that I think Bradley Manning saw that it was.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.
RATNER: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
(The New York Times story is here.)