Army SPC Ethan McCord on media coverage of Bradley Manning

The following is a letter written by former Army specialist Ethan McCord, in response to the recent profile on Bradley Manning which appeared in New York Magazine on July 3rd, 2011. The profile, which disclosed a previous unreported set of IM logs between Bradley and the blogger Zinnia Jones, focused on Bradley’s intimate personal details as a way to explain his alleged act of whistle-blowing, and has been met with fiery response by many who have been closely following his case.

Ethan McCord in Collateral Murder VideoEthan McCord, an army specialist who can be seen in the Collateral Murder video (which Bradley is accused of leaking) pulling wounded children from a civilian van after it was strafed by a U.S. gunship. His letter describes the harsh reality of serving in Iraq, and the the view that Manning’s alleged leaks could only have be an act of conscience.

For more opinion on the New York Magazine profile, and other recent coverage see Glenn Greenwald’s article on Salon.com, Kevin Gosztola’s follow up on Firedodlake, and a very in depth analysis from wlcentral.org. We also offer our own analysis of the IM logs featured in the article.

Specialist Ethan McCord

Specialist Ethan McCord -- Baghdad

PFC Bradley Manning: Conscience & Agency

By  Ethan McCord, former specialist, U.S. Army

July 10th, 2011

Serving with my unit 2nd battalion 16th infantry in New Baghdad Iraq, I vividly remember the moment in 2007, when our Battalion Commander walked into the room and announced our new rules of engagement:

“Listen up, new battalion SOP (standing operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!”

We weren’t trained extensively to recognize an unlawful order, or how to report one. But many of us could not believe what we had just been told to do. Those of us who knew it was morally wrong struggled to figure out a way to avoid shooting innocent civilians, while also dodging repercussions from the non-commissioned officers who enforced the policy. In such situations, we determined to fire our weapons, but into rooftops or abandoned vehicles, giving the impression that we were following procedure.

On April 5, 2010 American citizens and people around the world got a taste of the fruits of this standing operating procedure when WikiLeaks released the now-famous Collateral Murder video. This video showed the horrific and wholly unnecessary killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists.

I was part of the unit that was responsible for this atrocity. In the video, I can be seen attempting to carry wounded children to safety in the aftermath.

The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.

Private First Class Bradley Manning has been confined for over a year on the government’s accusation that he released this video and volumes of other classified documents to WikiLeaks — an organization that has been selectively publishing portions of this information in collaboration with other news outlets.

If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency. These chat logs allegedly describe how PFC Manning hopes these revelations will result in “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”

Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article Bradley Manning’s Army of One in New York Magazine (July 3, 2011) erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics. The important public issues wrapped up with PFC Manning’s case include: transparency in government; the Obama Administration’s unprecedented pursuit of whistle-blowers; accountability of government and military in shaping and carrying out foreign policy; war crimes revealed in the WikiLeaks documents; the catalyzing role these revelations played in democratic movements across the Middle East; and more.

The contents of the WikiLeaks revelations have pulled back the curtain on the degradation of our democratic system. It has become completely normal for decision-makers to promulgate foreign policies, diplomatic strategies, and military operating procedures that are hostile to the democratic ideals our country was founded upon. The incident I was part of—shown in the Collateral Murder video—becomes even more horrific when we grasp that it was not exceptional. PFC Manning himself is alleged to describe (in the chat logs) an incident where he was ordered to turn over innocent Iraqi academics to notorious police interrogators, for the offense of publishing a political critique of government corruption titled, “Where did the money go?” These issues deserve “discussion, debates, and reforms” — and attention from journalists.

Fishman’s article was also ignorant of the realities of military service. Those of us who serve in the military are often lauded as heroes. Civilians need to understand that we may be heroes, but we are not saints. We are young people under a tremendous amount of stress. We face moral dilemmas that many civilians have never even contemplated hypothetically.

Civil society honors military service partly because of the sacrifice it entails. Lengthy and repeated deployments stress our closest relationships with family and friends. The realities, traumas, and stresses of military life take an emotional toll. This emotional battle is part of the sacrifice that we honor. That any young soldier might wrestle with his or her experiences in the military, or with his or her identity beyond military life, should never be wielded as a weapon against them.

If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of, he is a hero of mine; not because he’s perfect or because he never struggled with personal or family relationships—most of us do—but because in the midst of it all he had the courage to act on his conscience.

Bradley Manning -- American Hero

9 thoughts on “Army SPC Ethan McCord on media coverage of Bradley Manning

  1. We all know about the appalling things that take place in the military. Quit making him suffer for your lack of ethics and morality. If you can’t find a way to win a war without hiding the way you do it, then do it openly and deal with the repercussions of those who you want to think of you as heroes.

  2. Thank you, Ethan, for following your own conscience and speaking out on the truth of US crimes in Iraq, and for your support of Bradley Manning’s actions. You are both heroes to me.

  3. thank you for giving us your view of what happened on that day. I am a VietNam vet and come from a long line of war vets. I wont allow my children to serve in the military. Until we can be honest and acknowledge the mistakes we make in war we will only make enemies of those we are told we are fighting for. I am ashamed ! It is a part of the code of military justice that we do not follow illigal orders. Had Bradley or Ethan gone through chain of command this story would have been surpressed.

  4. On the day that the US officially leaves Iraq I came across this video and learn about Bradley Manning. What a disgrace. Why has nothing been done about those in helicopter based on the transcript of there actions? George W. Bush and Dick Chaney should be charged and in jail rather than PFC Manning.

  5. Ethan McCord and Bradley Manning are heros in a shameful war that we should not be waging. Thank you Ethan, for sharing this with us.

  6. I sit here reading your letter and am overwhelmed with admiration and heartfelt appreciation for both you and Bradley Manning for your courage, transparency, and resilience. Thank you both.

  7. The true traitors are those who disgrace your nation. Heroes like Ethan and Bradley, have enhanced their countries moral standing. If crimes like collateral murder remained hidden, all the cowards who help the concealment are morally guilty.
    We live in a very corrupt and evil world, when a man can be imprisoned – possibly for life, for making a decision, not to further his own material gains, as the politicians and military potentates do, but for doing the dictates of his conscience.
    I love Bradley Manning. He will go down in history as a man of strength and honor, his military high command and those who put him on trial, will be remembered, if at all for their gutlessness and evil.

  8. Dear Ethan McCord:

    You rock Bro! Thank you so much for folks like you, Manning, Assange, Snowden, Blake, etc. Thank you for all of your COURAGE, WISDOM, MORAL CONSISTENCY and HUMANITY. On this particular Fourth of July, 2013, I am hoping that ALL of AMERICA will reflect these times of revolutions and turmoils within our national-consciousness. I also hope that the majority of Americans will wake-up sooner than later, simply to realize that this odious, bastardized, corporatized, and demonic ORWELLIAN STATE is becoming LEVIATHAN as was written by the great English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. It is so shameful to see what the American corporate class has done to this once beautiful and democratic project…I honestly believe that this is currently the THIRD AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Let us hope this will be our final one to depose these political/ideological/economic gangsters, fascists and tyrants once and for all. We don’t vote for kings. We execute them your honor.

    Finally, I hope the bloodshed will be minimal, although I am not holding my breath.

    HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY.

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