Bradley Manning was scheduled to speak yesterday at the sentencing phase of his trial for having leaked 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks. He is widely expected effectively to get a life sentence. But he has already served more time than was served in total by William Calley in the days of the Vietnam war.
Manning was convicted on July 30th of 21 offences. He has been in custody since his arrest in May 2010 – 39 months, 11 in solitary confinement.
The information divulged to WikiLeaks concerned the killing of Iraqi civilians in US airstrikes, massacres by mercenaries employed by the Blackwater company, the politics of rendition and torture programmes, and much more.
Manning says he was prompted to disclose the material by the “collateral murder” video showing US troops shooting a dozen Iraqi civilians from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007. He declared in his original defence statement: “The most alarming aspect to me was the seemingly delightful (sic) bloodlust they appeared to have . . . congratulating each another on their ability to kill in large numbers.” He had hoped that “the public would be as alarmed as me”.
‘Discredit upon the armed forces’
Manning’s charge-sheet alleged his conduct in releasing the information had been “of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” It wasn’t killing civilians in the name of the people that was accounted reprehensible, then, but allowing the people to know innocent civilians were being killed in their name.
Calley was sentenced to life on March 31st, 1971, for his leadership role in the killing of 504 Vietnamese civilians, almost all of them women and children, in the village of My Lai on March 16th, 1968. He didn’t deny what had happened or his own involvement but insisted he had only been following orders.
The My Lai story was broken by Seymour Hersh in the St Louis Post-Dispatch in November 1969. Hersh’s account and others subsequently compiled told of villagers killed and left in heaps in the huts where they had huddled in terror, arranged into groups and machine-gunned at a range of 10 to 15 feet, made to stand in line at the brim of the ditches their bodies were to tumble into. Women were gang-raped and then shot dead. A child was raped with a bayonet.
Within 24 hours of Calley being sentenced, president Richard Nixon ordered his transfer from military prison to “house arrest” in the officers’ quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was released after 41 months, in September 1974.