PLEASE READ: Former Army Sergeant Tim Gatto, on Bradley Manning

45486_591911197490808_1860634111_nIf you only have time, energy, and/or inclination to read one perspective on the ongoing archetypal Bradley Manning drama, I suggest it be this one. And I ask you, and myself, having absorbed the full meaning of former Army Sergeant Tim Gatto’s clear, concise, cogent analysis of the complexities of the contextual layering of Bradley Manning’s actions, the “crimes” for which he is being charged, the “government” that accuses him, and the history of war and anti-war efforts since Vietnam, what would we not do to transform the context in which we all live? What actions on our parts are too much, too intense, too creative, too over-the-top? How can we live with ourselves if we continue to bask in our own comfort zones? Are we not complicit if we do?

The Trial Of Bradley Manning As Seen By A Career Soldier

July 27, 2013

By Tim Gatto, via SueM

After the details of My Lai, a Vietnamese village that was destroyed and men, women and children killed by U.S. Soldiers came out, and the military had selected their fall guy for the massacre, Lt. Calley, we in the Army were subjected to constant classes on when to follow or when not to follow orders. We were told that there are legal orders and illegal orders, and that following illegal orders, would be well…illegal. If an enlisted man followed what he knew to be an illegal order, not only would the person that gave the illegal order be held responsible, the person that carried out the illegal order could also be charged.

It all sounds good, but it reality it is as the Brits say, “A bit of a sticky wicket”. This is because in the military, they also teach you to follow orders immediately, if there is a question about what orders to follow, bring it up later. In combat, when your life is on the line, and also the lives of your comrades on the battlefield with you, the best thing is to follow the orders even if it means putting your own life on the line. This is because the “fog of war” in the midst of battle is usually better seen (but not always) by the command that has a better picture of what is taking place.

We were given class after class as to what is an “illegal order”. Discussions were held, and looking back on it, the classes were really a reaction to the media’s portrayal of the military during and directly after the My Lai trial, for public consumption, and to raise the morale of the troops when many in the military were ashamed of atrocities committed in Vietnam. This was a way to let the public and the troops know that the military was addressing some of the unspeakable horrors of war and they were trying to do something about it. In reality, this was a public relations operation.

The idea was that if a soldier saw something going on that was not legal according to the Geneva Convention on the Laws of War, that soldier should go to a higher authority and report it. If he didn’t have the time, he should refuse to participate and if it was within his power, he should try to stop it. This all sounds reasonable, but in the military, sometimes it is not as cut and dry as one would think.

Now, in this day and age, we have a military that has seen continuous combat operations for over a decade. Most of the invasions and operations are, in reality, contrary to the Geneva Conventions themselves. This places the American soldier in a predicament from the start. The question being that if one enlists and takes the oath of enlistment to obey the orders of the officers above him and to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic , when your nation is breaking both U.S. and international law in the first place, how do you obey the orders of those officers that give them?

Now we had situation where a Private First Class was allowed to access sensitive information that showed beyond a reasonable doubt that the American military was committing atrocities and crimes that were against not only his moral code, but were against military law and the Geneva Conventions. This was during a period when the U.S. Military was committing crime after crime by using depleted uranium (a weapon of mass destruction), and destroying entire cities as in Fallujah with air strikes, artillery and armor, killing men women and children indiscriminately and for all intents and purposes, destroying the city.

Meanwhile, no soldiers were reporting crimes to their superiors (that we know about). It was business as usual in this new type of hostilities against other nations in undeclared wars that the U.S. euphemistically calls “The War on Terror”. Soldiers were seemingly following illegal orders on a daily basis and “doing their duty”.

This Private First Class was in a terrible quandary. It must have seemed to him that with his access to all of this sensitive information that allowed him to see a larger picture of what was really going on, that his nation was indeed committing grievous war crimes. When he brought this matter to his superiors, he was ignored. This, in reality, is what many soldiers experience when confronted with war in all of its horrific forms.

The difference here is that this lowly Private decided that he was going to expose these crimes. Like I said, in this day and age, long after the My Lai massacre. this type of behavior is unheard of. According to the American Government, the enemy we face is more horrific and dangerous than any we have ever faced. After all, didn’t Muslims fell the Twin Towers and kill innocent Americans and aren’t they plotting continuously to commit acts of terror against the United States? As far as the military was concerned, the gloves were off and according to the President at the time; “Either you are with us or against us”.

It must have taken a supreme act if courage for Bradley Manning to finally release his information to the only people that seemed to care what was happening in Iraq, Wikileaks. Now he finds himself in front of a Court Martial after being tortured for months by the military by being forced to remain in solitary confinement for months, while remaining naked, in a cold dark cell, being treated like an animal in direct violation to all military law and the Geneva Conventions in regard to treatment of prisoners.

Most of his defense has been deemed by the people in charge of his Court Martial to be inadmissible, and this leaves him defenseless against the power of the United States military that had once proclaimed that if a soldier saw wrongdoing and violations of the Geneva Convention on the Laws of War, that soldier should go to a higher authority and report it, and if it was within his power, he should try to stop it. The Private did report it, but the report of these violations fell on deaf ears.

Now he will pay the price of doing the right thing. Doing the right thing, not only to assuage his own sense of right and wrong, but doing the right thing according to what the United States Army once told their soldiers.

This is a new age however. An age of masking wars as defensive actions, even though they are in reality invasions of other nations against all International Law, the Geneva Conventions are no longer relevant. We have seen an observer call on Apache attack helicopters to fire on journalists walking with their cameras on a city street, and once they were wounded and lying on the street and when people ran to help them, the Apaches were ordered to fire on the rescuers. Manning let the world see this. Still, no charges were filed against the individuals responsible for these actions.

It is Bradley Manning that will suffer for these actions. The American military is using this to issue a warning to their soldiers that conscience and adherence to the laws of war will no longer be tolerated. This is what the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning means.

Tim Gatto is former Chairman of the Liberal Party of America, Tim is a retired Army Sergeant. He currently lives in South Carolina. He is the author of “Complicity to Contempt” and “Kimchee Days” available at Oliver Arts and Open Press. Tim Gatto’s new book “Contempt to Outrage” will be available soon from Oliver Arts and Open

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2 Responses to PLEASE READ: Former Army Sergeant Tim Gatto, on Bradley Manning

  1. grandpatom says:

    What a great analysis of the dilemmas faced by conscientious soldiers who truly care about military issues as they are rightly seen in a context of morality and ethics!
    Reading this brought back into my mind an experience I had in 1971 during my basic Army training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was 21 years old, had just recently returned to the USA after serving two years abroad as a Mormon missionary with a minister’s deferment (4f classification if I remember clearly). I could not afford to enroll in college, and had no idea what to study anyway, in order to next get a student deferment if possible. Suddenly I found myself classified 1a with a draft lottery number of 69 and in the pipeline to be drafted to go to Viet Nam.
    At the time, I was a loyal young Republican but was repulsed by the thought of leaving the USA again so soon, this time not to “save souls” but to kill them. Trying the conscientious objector route entered my mind briefly, but I was too morally confused to think clearly. Scrambling desperately to avoid being drafted to Nam I got lucky and found one of the few remaining slots available in the Idaho Army National Guard. It was a recon slot in Armored Cavalry and I was informed that the odds of the unit being called up to go to Nam were actually pretty slim. I jumped on it and was soon sent to Fort Knox for both basic and AIT training before returning to “weekend warrior” duty back in Idaho.
    Well lah de dah, basic army training itself totally appalled me. How naive can a 21 year old “intelligent boy” be? Damned naive, I tell you. I did not really have the foggiest notion of how a soldier is made until they tried to make me one! I felt completely stripped naked of all the humanity in me and compelled to become a mindless soulless robotic killing machine.
    Avoiding Nam became a moot point. The value of my human spirit was now at stake. All my conditioning to be a caring moral human citizen was supposed to be put on hold in order to become a soldier? I REVOLTED. I went to my company commander, who to his genuine credit, actually listened to me. I explained that I was a loyal citizen of the USA who held the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence in highest esteem, but this “soldiering process” seemed to violate it all. This is the best the military of the great USA has to offer a young man, I questioned—this inhumane contemptible brainwashing to degrade me to something akin to a trained animal? Please Sir, whatever happened to honor?
    I think I got extremely lucky to have a company commander who was still human, or else there really is a God, or whatever, but I wasn’t brushed off or told to drop for a hundred push-ups or had a hard finger poked into my chest while the commander did a George Patton number on me. Instead, I got an immediate referral to the chaplain, heard from my parents within 24 hours, and my Mormon church counselors right after them—all soothing my ruffled idealistic feathers and urging me to calm down, be obedient, and go through the [e]motions like a good boy.
    Not quite that easy, I kept thinking. The seeds of rebellion were sown in me. SHAME on the whole damned SYSTEM that reduces the honorable idea of defending human rights to a SHAM of what that REALLY MEANS.
    HURRAH for ANY and EVERY effort to bring true morality, genuine authentic ethics, and dare I use the word LOVE to bear on the ways that we FIGHT for human ideals. Conflict is here to stay. The universe cannot exist without it. BUT COME ON, PEOPLE, we can still exercise friggin’ INTELLIGENCE in the game of LIFE—-I STILL HOPE!!! Being pawns is perfectly okay, but being nothing but pawns is just cause for rebellious action. BE ALL THAT WE CAN BE!

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