[News] The Fog Machine of War - Chelsea Manning on the U.S. Military and Media Freedom

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 18 10:29:33 EDT 2014

    New York Times publishes Chelsea Manning's op-ed

/June 16, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network

/Chelsea Manning's first op-ed since her imprisonment was published last 
Saturday in the* New York Times* 
Read the full text of her article below:/

      "The Fog Machine of War"

      Chelsea Manning on the U.S. Military and Media Freedom

June 14, 2014 by Chelsea Manning

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. --- WHEN I chose to disclose classified 
information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense 
of duty to others. I'm now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for 
these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated 
the law.

However, the concerns that motivated me have not been resolved. As Iraq 
erupts in civil war and America again contemplates intervention, that 
unfinished business should give new urgency to the question of how the 
United States military controlled the media coverage of its long 
involvement there and in Afghanistan. I believe that the current limits 
on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for 
Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance.

If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, 
you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories 
declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and 
photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. 
The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in 
creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated 

Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal 
crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior 
and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. 
Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom 
the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing "anti-Iraqi 
literature." I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to 
terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki's 
administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in 
eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn't need this information; 
instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more 
"anti-Iraqi" print shops.

I was shocked by our military's complicity in the corruption of that 
election. Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American 
media's radar.

It was not the first (or the last) time I felt compelled to question the 
way we conducted our mission in Iraq. We intelligence analysts, and the 
officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of 
the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say 
that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when 
they didn't have half the story?

Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq 
in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed 
recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One 
of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read 
by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each 
issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.

The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the 
States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an 
analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the 
solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to 
the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.

One clue to this disjunction lay in the public affairs reports. Near the 
top of each briefing was the number of embedded journalists attached to 
American military units in a combat zone. Throughout my deployment, I 
never saw that tally go above 12. In other words, in all of Iraq, which 
contained 31 million people and 117,000 United States troops, no more 
than a dozen American journalists were covering military operations.

The process of limiting press access to a conflict begins when a 
reporter applies for embed status. All reporters are carefully vetted by 
military public affairs officials. This system is far from unbiased. 
Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the 
military are more likely to be granted access.

Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as 
likely to produce "favorable" coverage, based on their past reporting, 
also get preference. This outsourced "favorability" rating assigned to 
each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce 
critical coverage.

Reporters who succeeded in obtaining embed status in Iraq were then 
required to sign a media "ground rules" agreement. Army public affairs 
officials said this was to protect operational security, but it also 
allowed them to terminate a reporter's embed without appeal.

There have been numerous cases of reporters' having their access 
terminated following controversial reporting. In 2010, the late Rolling 
Stone reporter Michael Hastings had his access pulled after reporting 
criticism of the Obama administration by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and 
his staff in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said 
"Embeds are a privilege, not a right."

If a reporter's embed status is terminated, typically she or he is 
blacklisted. This program of limiting press access was challenged in 
court in 2013 by a freelance reporter, Wayne Anderson, who claimed to 
have followed his agreement but to have been terminated after publishing 
adverse reports about the conflict in Afghanistan. The ruling on his 
case upheld the military's position that there was no constitutionally 
protected right to be an embedded journalist.

The embedded reporter program, which continues in Afghanistan and 
wherever the United States sends troops, is deeply informed by the 
military's experience of how media coverage shifted public opinion 
during the Vietnam War. The gatekeepers in public affairs have too much 
power: Reporters naturally fear having their access terminated, so they 
tend to avoid controversial reporting that could raise red flags.

The existing program forces journalists to compete against one another 
for "special access" to vital matters of foreign and domestic policy. 
Too often, this creates reporting that flatters senior decision makers. 
A result is that the American public's access to the facts is gutted, 
which leaves them with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials.

Journalists have an important role to play in calling for reforms to the 
embedding system. The favorability of a journalist's previous reporting 
should not be a factor. Transparency, guaranteed by a body not under the 
control of public affairs officials, should govern the credentialing 
process. An independent board made up of military staff members, 
veterans, Pentagon civilians and journalists could balance the public's 
need for information with the military's need for operational security.

Reporters should have timely access to information. The military could 
do far more to enable the rapid declassification of information that 
does not jeopardize military missions. The military's Significant 
Activity Reports, for example, provide quick overviews of events like 
attacks and casualties. Often classified by default, these could help 
journalists report the facts accurately.

Opinion polls indicate that Americans' confidence in their elected 
representatives is at a record low. Improving media access to this 
crucial aspect of our national life --- where America has committed the 
men and women of its armed services --- would be a powerful step toward 
re-establishing trust between voters and officials.

/Manning's article reached an audience of nearly 2.5 million readers, 
and received notice by several media outlets. CNN reports that Chelsea 
Manning, "broke her silence in a fiery editorial accusing the United 
States of lying about Iraq". Time adds "The former military intelligence 
analyst accuses the military of limiting press freedom and hiding the 
truth about events in Iraq."/

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