“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,” Chelsea Manning begins in a new op-ed published by the New York Times. “I’m now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated the law.”
The op-ed marks the first time 26-year-old whistle blower has spoken publicly since being sentenced to more than three decades in prison last year for leaking 750,000 pages of classified documents to the public.
In the piece, titled “The Fog Machine of War,” Manning accuses media outlets of turning a blind eye to the chaos happening in Iraq and Afghanistan both in 2010 and today.
“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,” Manning urges.
“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,” she continues.
As an example, Manning claims that during Iraq’s 2010 elections, the media duped the world into thinking everything was hunky dory, when the reality was quite the opposite.
“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,” she writes. “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 reality.”
Manning reveals that U.S. security forces worked “on behalf” of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in silencing dissidents.
“I was shocked by our military’s complicity in the corruption of that election,” she says. “Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American media’s radar.”
Manning believes the root of all this has to do with the politics behind embedding journalists into the military. She says too many journalists are influenced by the military’s public affairs team, which has a history of cutting off access to those whose reporting is deemed too “controversial.”
“If a reporter’s embed status is terminated, typically she or he is blacklisted,” she writes. “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,” Manning continues. “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.”
Manning concludes her op-ed by saying that improving media access to the military is “a crucial aspect of our national life.”