UPDATE #1 Nathan Fuller of Manning Support Network writes that he emailed Keller and got reply that he believes column is fair and is standing by it. Pressed on this, citing my critique and others, Keller replied in an email: "Sorry, but it really seems to me that some people who have decided Manning is a hero have assembled a coherent political motivation by fishing here and there in the Lamo file. Reading the whole transcript, I found tidbits of political motivation scattered among a host of other motivations." Note to Bill: I have never written that Manning is a "hero."
Earlier: Last week Bradley Manning in his lengthy statement at his hearing revealed for the first time that he had called the NYT public editor before contacting WikiLeaks--left a message and did not get his call returned. So now Bill Keller, who was the top editor of the paper at that time--and later published hundreds of stories based on Manning material (while also bashing Julian Assange)--takes up the question of what might have happened if the Times had returned the call, in a column.
First of all, I can say with some confidence that The Times would have done exactly what it did with the archive when it was supplied to us via WikiLeaks: assigned journalists to search for material of genuine public interest, taken pains to omit information that might get troops in the field or innocent informants killed, and published our reports with a flourish. The documents would have made news — big news.
But somewhat less of it. While in reality The Times and the public benefited from a collegial partnership with London’s Guardian and other papers that took part in the WikiLeaks fiesta, I’m pretty sure that if we had been the sole recipient we would not have shared Manning’s gift with other news organizations. That is partly for competitive reasons, but also because sharing a treasury of raw intelligence, especially with foreign news media, might have increased the legal jeopardy for The Times and for our source.There's much to pick through in this column. I love the part where he blames Manning for not getting through to the Times--when it was a Times editor who did not return his call. Then there's the part where he brags about a Times editorial hitting the military for keeping Manning in solitary confinement--months after this became known. But for now I'll focus on one major Keller mistake (nothing new for him). Yes, we've known for a long time now about Manning's social/sexual issues that probably contributed to his decision to leak. But Keller charges that we knew little about Manning's motives in leaking, what evils he saw, because in his chat logs with Lamo, "When asked, he has trouble recalling any specific outrages that needed exposing. His cause was 'open diplomacy' or — perhaps in jest — 'worldwide anarchy.'”
This is false, as I detailed in my two books on the case. Manning, in fact, told Lamo about U.S. crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, some that he witnessed himself, others that he observed via that helcopter video, and more. For example:
i think the thing that got me the most... that made me rethink the world more than anything...was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police... for printing "anti-Iraqi literature"... the iraqi federal police wouldn't cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the "bad guys" were, and how significant this was for the FPs... it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki... i had an interpreter read it for me... and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled "Where did the money go?" and following the corruption trail within the PM's cabinet... i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on... he didn't want to hear any of it... he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees...
everything started slipping after that... i saw things differently...I was actively involved in something I was completely against.This would seem clear enough. But Keller compounds his error by then suggesting that when Manning spelled out the outrages and motives in his recent statement he might have only been "shaped" to the applause of his biggest backers. A sickening claim, and based on the Lamo chat logs, wrong.
More from the Lamo chat log: It virtually opens with Manning saying he had seen evidence of "awful things" such as at Gitmo and Bagram. Then he mentions "criminal political dealings" and cites the "buildup to the Iraq war." He details what he saw on the "Collateral Murder" video and why he wanted it released ("I want people to see the truth"). He wants to get this and much else out (he IDs more) because it might "actually change something." As for the State Dept. cables, he hopes they will spark "worldwide discussion, debates and reforms." Yet Keller claims this was all "vague."
You'd think Bill would be a little more humble this week, as we get ready to mark the start of our tragic adventure in Iraq 10 years ago--an invasion Keller backed as a self-proclaimed "liberal hawk." Also see how Keller tried to explain his support for the war.
Greg Mitchell's book "So Wrong For So Long," on media misconduct and the Iraq war, was published today in an updated edition and for the first time as an e-book, with preface by Bruce Springsteen.