Manning, who has been mostly silent since being convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing classified materials to WikiLeaks, said that in light of the recent surge of violence in Iraq it is time to question "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," she wrote in the op-ed, titled "The Fog Machine of War."
Manning cited failures in press freedom when reports described the 2010 Iraq elections as a success -- a milestone that signified the creation a free and democratic system. Contrary to these reports, Manning wrote that at the time, military and diplomatic reports said political dissidents of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki were detained, tortured and killed by the federal police.
She says she was previously ordered to investigate people the federal police said were printing "anti-Iraqi literature." Upon finding these individuals were not affiliated with terrorists, she forwarded the information to a commanding officer who told her to continue assisting the federal police in tracking down more "anti-Iraqi" printers.
The fact that this was never reported by western media, Manning said, shows a lack of press freedom regarding military operations. During her deployment she says she never saw more than 12 embedded journalists in Iraq because the military controls the process.
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.
Manning said military public affairs officers could strip a journalist of embed status if they report something the military does not like.
Freedom of the press in the U.S. did see a significant decline in 2013. Reporters Without Borders released a report in February that showed the U.S. had dropped from the 32nd to the 46th spot in a list of countries ranked by press freedom. Manning's conviction contributed to the drop in ranking.
"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 concluded.
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