The story of Pfc Bradley Manning, the young US Army intelligence analyst allegedly responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, continues to act as a magnet for supporters worldwide, who are appalled by the accounts of his solitary confinement, and the humiliation to which he has recently been subjected, which has involved him sleeping naked at night, and having to stand naked outside his call during cell inspections in the morning, even though the alleged basis for this humiliation — that he is at risk of committing suicide — has been disproved by the miltary’s own records, in which his alleged propensity to commit suicide has been repeatedly challenged.
While sympathizing fully with Pfc Manning’s plight, I do hope that those supporting him will also realize that the humiliation to which he is being subjected, and its probable intent — to make him produce false confessions about his relationship with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks — is not unique, as it echoes the conditions in which prisoners in the “War on Terror” — at Guantánamo and elsewhere, including, in three instances, on the US mainland — were held by the Bush administration, whose detention also involved torture and abuse, and the creation of circumstances in which confessions would be produced, whether they were true or not.
This was part of a disgraceful policy that has not come to an end under President Obama, as Guantánamo is still open, and 172 men are held there, with the administration, Congress and the courts having all conspired to prevent the release of any of them (even though 89 of them have been cleared for release). In addition, at Bagram in Afghanistan, there are still men held who were seized up to nine years ago in other countries, and were rendered to Bagram (after a tour of a variety of secret CIA prisons), where they remain in a legal black hole.
While I encourage readers to spare a thought for those still held in Guantánamo and Bagram, I reiterate that I understand the significance of Bradley Manning’s plight, as it is unaccepable that the ill-treatment of such a prominent prisoner is continuing, despite international outrage, just as it is unacceptable that he has not yet been put forward for trial, as he has now been held for nearly a year, since his initial arrest in Kuwait last May.
In an important update to Manning’s story, the website The Western Front recently interviewed Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq War veteran and former Army intelligence specialist, who graduated from the same intelligence school as Manning, and who has some important insights: firstly, about how dehumanizing it was working as an intel analyst in Iraq, and how, at the same time, when it came to having access to classified documents on the Defense Department’s online network, “Army security is [or was] like a Band-Aid on a sunken chest wound.”
Knappenberger also explains how the leaking of information by Manning (if indeed it was him) “has raised consciousness quite a bit of the true nature of what’s going on,” adding that he is appalled by the military’s obsession with classifying as secret everything that takes place in its wars, and how he is also appalled that Manning, as a whistleblower, should have rights and protections that are denied to him, and also regards his treatment as a disgrace.
This is a powerful interview, and I do hope that you have the time to read it, and also to circulate it to others.
Former military intel analyst shares his thoughts on the motive of alleged leaks.
The alleged leaker, intelligence specialist Private First Class Bradley Manning, is now in Quantico military prison in Virginia, where he has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in July 2010. On April 10, nearly 300 top legal scholars, authors and experts signed a letter condemning his treatment as torture.
Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq War veteran and former intelligence specialist in the Army, graduated from the same intelligence school as Bradley Manning in May 2004 and was given secret clearance.
Knappenberger is now a junior at Western majoring in mathematics. He was interviewed last week for a PBS Frontline documentary about WikiLeaks, Manning and military information security. The Western Front interviewed Knappenberger about his experience in the military and his connection to WikiLeaks.
The Western Front: What is your connection to Bradley Manning?
Evan Knappenberger: Well, I have a couple connections to Bradley. The first is that we both went to the same intelligence school. We went to the same basic training company, pretty much an identical track all the way through.
They have [Manning’s] chat logs with the guy who turned him in. He talks about why he [leaked the documents]. He says on those chat logs that it’s out of principle. He didn’t like what he saw in Iraq. He talks about the collateral murder video, watching civilians get killed by American soldiers pretty much unprovoked. He had a change of heart, I think, that’s why he says he decided to release all these documents — if in fact, it was him that did it.
I was involved in torture in Iraq. Part of an intel analyst’s job is “targeting.” You take a human being and put him on a piece of paper, distill his life into one piece of paper. You’ve got a grid coordinate of where he lives and a little box that says what to do with him: kill, capture, detain, exploit, source — you know, there’s different things you can do with him. When I worked in “targeting,” it was having people killed.
The thing that gets me about that is I don’t think anybody who’s aware of what’s going on can do that work for very long without having a major problem come up. Most of the guys I went through intel school with, who went to Iraq with me, are either dead, killed themselves, are in a long-term care institution or completely disabled. I’m actually 50 percent disabled via PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), mostly because of the stuff that happened.
The Western Front: What kind of access did you have here and in Iraq?
Evan Knappenberger: Army security is like a Band-Aid on a sunken chest wound. I remember when I was training, before I had my clearance even, they were talking about diplomatic cables. It was a big scandal at Fort Huachuca [in Arizona], with all these kids from analyst school. Somebody said [in the cables] Sadaam wanted to negotiate and was willing to agree to peace terms before we invaded, and Bush said no. And this wasn’t very widely known. Somehow it came across on a cable at Fort Huachuca, and everybody at the fort knew about it.
It’s interesting the access we had. I did the briefing for a two-star general every morning for a year. So I had secret and top-secret information readily available. The funny thing is, Western’s password system they have here on all these computers is better security than the Army had on their secret computers.
There are 2 million people, many of them not U.S. citizens, with access to SIPRNet [Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, the Department of Defense’s largest network for the exchange of classified information and messages]. There are 1,400 government agencies with SIPR websites. It’s not that secret.
The Western Front: Do you think private military contractors play a role in this?
Evan Knappenberger: Oh yeah. I worked in a place called a SCIF [Secret Compartmentalized Information Facility] and almost anybody, if they spoke English, could get in there. It wasn’t hard at all.
Every military base has [a SCIF]. There’s one in Bellingham, too. It’s by the airport. The only security they have at the SCIFs I worked at was one guy on duty at a desk. They had barbed wire you could literally step right over.
We basically gave [the Iraqi army] SIPRNet. It’s not official, but if you’ve got a secret Internet computer sitting there with a wire running across from the American side of the base, with no guard, you’re basically giving them access.
Then in every Iraqi division command post, you have a SIPRNet computer, with all the stuff Bradley Manning leaked and massive amounts more.
I could look up FBI files on the SIPRNet. In fact, I was reading Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels book, and I was like “this sounds cool,” and I looked up all the Hell’s Angels.
We looked up the JFK assassination, I couldn’t find anything on that. It was kind of a game, but, yeah, that’s the SIPRNet. You’ve got access to every so-called sensitive piece of information.
You’ve basically got us sitting there in an Iraqi division command post, and to make it all better, the U.S. Army put one guard guy there to guard it. They would switch us off every 12 hours with another guy. If he gets up to go to the bathroom, the SIPRNet is just sitting there. All you need is knowledge of the English language and knowledge of how to use Internet Explorer.
The Western Front: Is all the information Bradley Manning leaked on those computers under the same security?
Evan Knappenberger: He has top-secret clearance, and it’s a little better. It’s like there’s one more door you have to go through to get to the top-secret computers, maybe. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t.
The Western Front: What do you think the release of these documents and WikiLeaks have accomplished?
Evan Knappenberger: I think it has raised consciousness quite a bit of the true nature of what’s going on. Anybody now can go see the daily incident log of what happened in Iraq. What WikiLeaks did, what all of this did, is give real credibility to people who want to tell the truth. You can corroborate stories.
The Western Front: What do you think the attacks on WikiLeaks and Manning’s imprisonment say about freedom in the United States?
Evan Knappenberger: The fact we think we can classify everything that goes on in a war is ridiculous. And the fact that the press really doesn’t have the freedom to report on the military is ridiculous.
The second part of it is Bradley Manning and his treatment. If he was in any other government agency or private agency, he’d be considered a whistleblower. He’d have protections, but he’s not. It shows the gap of human rights in our military.
If he was anybody else, he’d be covered under the whistleblower protections or the freedom of speech. If a reporter gets classified information and publishes it, it’s not a crime. WikiLeaks is a reporting agency, so they should be covered under that. And anybody that works for them, i.e. Bradley Manning, should be covered under that, too.
The Western Front: What should people know about Bradley Manning and why should they care about this issue?
Evan Knappenberger: This is an American citizen. He’s an all-American kid. Born and raised in Oklahoma. If the constitutional rights don’t apply to him, it should scare everybody. Even if you don’t agree with what he allegedly did, you still have the obligation to care about the fact that he hasn’t been afforded his trial and he’s been treated with cruel and unusual punishment. Even if you’re against freedom of the press in this case, you still have the obligation to care about the kid. He’s being tortured.
It has been almost a year. They wake him up every five minutes. He’s stripped naked every day. The lights have been on in his cell 24/7 for a year. He gets one visitor a week. He can’t exercise in his cell, gets an hour a day to walk around a larger cell with no bed in it for exercise. Every human rights organization in the world has condemned his treatment as torture. That should scare the shit out of us because he’s not some Islamic fundamentalist who talks about Jihad, he’s an American kid, modern guy, who listens to pop music and happens to be gay.