Judith Miller, journalist who spread WMD lies, implies Chelsea Manning’s leak killed people (it didn’t)

(This article is published in AlterNet.)

A prominent journalist who spread lies the US government used to sell the war in Iraq — which led to the deaths of more than 1 million people — implied that whistleblower Chelsea Manning has blood on her hands for exposing US atrocities in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Manning, who has been serving a 35-year prison sentence for leaking classified documents to the whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks, had her prison sentence commuted on Tuesday, January 17, after years of pressure from grassroots activists and advocacy groups. She will be released in May — significantly earlier than her original 2045 release date, which rights groups argued was draconian.

In response to the news, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller tweeted, “Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning. How many people died because of manning’ leak?”

Miller, whose reporting for the Times was notorious for uncritically echoing US government lies about supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, implied that people have died because of Manning’s leak. The fact of the matter, however, is that the answer to her question is zero: Manning’s leak did not lead to the deaths of anyone, according to the US government’s own material.

In 2013, the US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s investigation of the impact of WikiLeaks’ releases acknowledged that they were unable to find a single example of someone who was injured because of Manning’s leak. The official said this in Manning’s sentencing hearing.

Moreover, a review by the Associated Press rebuked unsubstantiated claims by the Obama administration that WikiLeaks’ disclosures were life-threatening.

Not a modicum of evidence has ever been procured proving that Manning’s leak threatened any lives. The only person whose health has been jeopardized by her whistleblowing has in fact been her own — during her time in prison, Manning has attempted suicide twice, and she went on hunger strike to protest her treatment by the prison system and the US government, which she said were “bullying” her.

In the mean time, numerous studies have found that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the US-led war that Miller’s reporting helped the government sell.

A report by Nobel Prize-winning group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War found that the US-led war in Iraq led to the deaths, directly or indirectly, of more than 1 million Iraqis. And this is a conservative estimate, the report is careful to note.

Moreover, this figure only considers the death toll due to the decade of the US war. It does not factor in the many thousands more Iraqis who have died because of the instability the American and British invasion and occupation created, not to mention the rise of the genocidal extremist group ISIS, which grew out of the bloody US war.

In response to Judith Miller’s tweet, the writer and TV producer Harley Peyton added, “How many people died because u funneled lies and propaganda into The NY Times?”

Miller, who has repeatedly defended her past distorted reporting, replied, “not lies or propaganda, but Intel estimates that proved wrong. Big diff.” She suggested that critics read her book “The Story: a Reporter’s Journey.”

In 2015, however, The New York Times, Miller’s former newspaper, published a review that blasted her book as “sad and flawed.”

This by no means lets the US newspaper of record off the hook, of course. After all, it was the Times that signed off on and published Miller’s deeply misleading reports in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq, in 2002 and 2003.

It was, too, the New York Times editorial board that published pro-war propaganda weeks before President George W. Bush invaded. “The only way short of war to get Saddam Hussein to reverse course at this late hour is to make clear that the Security Council is united in its determination to disarm him and is now ready to call in the cavalry to get the job done,” the editorial board declared in February 2003. “America and Britain are prepared to take that step. The time has come for the others to quit pretending that inspections alone are the solution.”

The editorial board of the world’s most influential newspaper continued, “The Security Council doesn’t need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.”

Materials leaked by Manning in fact exposed potential war crimes committed by the US in its wars in Iraq in Afghanistan. In 2010, Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, leaked more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks. Among them were videos that show American pilots killing more than 100 civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Video of an attack in Baghdad on July 12, 2007 showed pilots in two US helicopters killing more than a dozen people, including two children and two Iraqi war correspondents working for the news agency Reuters.

Footage of another atrocity, in Granai, Afghanistan on May 4, 2009 , showed the pilot of a US plane massacring scores of civilians. The Afghan government said 140 civilians were killed in the attack.

Manning, at age 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison, on 21 charges, for her leaks. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture said in 2012 that Manning had been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. Manning had endured nearly a year of solitary confinement, which rights experts say is tantamount to torture.

After receiving her sentence, Chelsea Manning, who had formerly been known as Bradley Manning, announced that she was transgender and identified as a woman. She immediately asked to begin hormone therapy in order to transition, but the military did not at first cooperate. The US Army did not approve Manning’s hormone therapy until 2015, after she filed a lawsuit.

Legal groups and grassroots activists have spent years calling for Manning’s release. In the lead-up to the commutation of her sentence, there was a swelling campaign, which was supported by major human rights groups like Amnesty International.

On January 17, the prison sentence of longtime Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera was also commuted. Activists and rights groups have organized and advocated for his release for decades.

Although the Obama administration commuted Manning’s sentence, it also used the World War I-era Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers who leaked to journalists more than all previous presidents combined.