Heroes and Villains: Does US Foreign Policy Understand the Difference?



By Joseph Howard Crews

For 60 years the most celebrated and revered African in history was listed as a terrorist threat to the people of the United States. Who decided this? Why did Americans allow this, and what does it say about what we are?

In 2008, former South African President Nelson Mandela was finally removed from the U.S. terrorism watch list. Mandela and other members of the African National Congress had been placed on the list because of their fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime — a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the country’s National Party between 1948 and 1994.

Yet it was just days ago that former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt — a man once lauded by President Ronald Reagan — was convicted of genocide after a Guatemalan court found him guilty for his role in the slaughter of 1,771 Mayan Ixils in the 1980s. In fact, a total of 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or “disappeared” during the conflict, making it one of Latin America’s most violent wars in modern history.

This marks the first time in modern history that a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in his own country. After Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, Guatemala erupted in cathartic relief.

During a meeting with Ríos Montt in December 1982, Reagan famously declared: “President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment …. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” In reality, Ríos Montt was brutal, learning his “counter-insurgency” tactics at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.”

Against accusations of murder, Ríos Montt responded: “It’s not that we have a policy of scorched earth, just a policy of scorched communists.”

So, Reagan supported this man who scorched Ixil Mayans from the face of the earth because they were “communists” (they were not) and proclaimed that Ríos Montt was a man of integrity, a friend of the United States. Shame!

Our government has over the last century supported a score of corrupt, murderous tyrants throughout Latin America, including Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujullo and Nicaragua’s Anastastio Somoza. The list for the Middle East is even longer and more sinister.

More disturbing is the vilification, torture or humiliation which our government has wreaked upon great heroes like Mandela, and courageous whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, Peter van Buren, Sibel Edmonds, Lt Col Daniel Davis, CIA veteran John Kiriakou and, most egregiously of all, Pvt. Bradley Manning. Never has a U.S. soldier been so unjustly and cruelly treated by his government.

After more than three years in prison, including nine months of torture in the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning’s trial is finally scheduled to begin June 3, 2013, in Maryland. The nation will break out in protests.

The outcome of this trial will determine whether a conscience-driven 25-year-old WikiLeaks whistle-blower spends the rest of his life in prison. Manning believed that the American people have a right to know the truth about what our government does around the world in our name.

We do not know how history will judge Manning, but nations around the world already embrace him as the catalyst for activating vibrant democratic developments in the Middle East. Democracy thrives on truth and transparency in government dealings, which these leaked documents are supplying.

No one has named one single U.S. soldier who has been harmed by the leaked documents. On the contrary, release of the highly embarrassing documents expedited U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, rescuing thousands of troops from bodily injury, PTSD and traumatic brain injury.



The Commander-in-Chief, however, improperly decreed Manning guilty on April 23, 2011, even as Manning languished under abusive treatment in prison. This was evidenced when protesters interrupted President Obama’s speech at his $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser in San Francisco, and were met with the blanket statement from Obama that Manning “broke the law.”

The impropriety of Obama’s public pre-trial decree of Manning’s guilt is both gross and manifest.

“How can Manning possibly expect to receive a fair hearing from military officers,” asked Glenn Greenwald, “when their Commander-in-Chief has already decreed his guilt?”

Numerous commentators have noted how egregiously wrong Obama was in his preconceived condemnation.

Michael Whitney wrote: “[T]he President of the United States of America and a self-described Constitutional scholar does not care that Manning has yet to be tried or convicted for any crime.”

No American soldier has been treated the way our government has treated Pvt. Bradley Manning.

Over three years in prison without trial, nine months of which were in solitary confinement accompanied only by highly abusive treatment. The U.N. official overseeing the investigation pronounced that “Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in ….”

His miscreant jailers and interrogators tormented Manning with perfidious methods designed to humiliate him as a gay man. But he would not break. He stood strong and true for his country and his personal integrity.

It seems unlikely Manning’s trial will bring justice or exoneration. Court hearings have been structured to include secret testimony from secret witnesses and barred his defense from introducing exculpatory testimony.

But years from now Manning will be exonerated, much like Nelson Mandela. Let’s hope his exoneration rises above a Nobel Peace Prize, as that would only put him on a par with Obama’s questionable status.

We who love a healthy and vibrant democracy demand a full and unconditional pardon from Obama, an apology from the secretaries of State and Defense, and restitution for the injustice and humiliation already inflicted upon Pvt.Manning. If the court does not release Manning, and if Obama refuses to issue a pardon, a very severe political cost will be extracted. Justice will prevail.

We demand full respect and honor for patriotic whistleblowers, without whom our democracy will descend into despotism. Governments which operate in secrecy cannot be trusted and descend into oppression — even tyranny.

We see clearly that American government has an atrocious record in choosing its friends, and an equally dismal record of abusing its heroes. We must not allow the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, the Pentagon or even the president to make these choices. We, the free and informed people of America, must select our heroes, and name our villains.

Joseph Howard Crews is the editor of Progressivepost.com, a North County liberal website and bi-monthly newsletter.


June 1 is the International Day of Action to Support Bradley Manning as his trial begins. Rallies in support Manning are scheduled across the nation. San Diego’s rally will be held at 1 p.m. at the corner of 6th and University avenues.

We the People will send a strong message to the military prosecutors, the Congress and President Obama, that Bradley Manning is a courageous patriot for democracy, a hero and intrepid truth-teller.


  1. avatarTom Cairns says

    Rios-Montt was connected to a religious group here in Humboldt County, located on Table Bluff, just north of the Eel River. Those of us on the progressive side focused on his connections here as he carried out his genocide on the people of Guatemala at that time.

    • avatarPopsiq says

      The US brand of evangelical Christianity features largely in the saga of Rios Montt and his fellows. That is one of the things that made them so attractive to Americans, and American interests in Central America. Having a ‘helpmeet’ who ‘knows the same Jesus’ as you is always a blessing.

  2. avatarGoatskull says

    One thing a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that Manning did in fact technically break the law. The clip that he released was deemed top secret and as an intelligence specialist he had added responsibility to make sure things like that don’t get leaked out to the public. The fact that the content showed rogue solders killing innocent people doesn’t change that. I’ve mentioned this before a couple times. Even if the solders in the clip were to be court martialed and found guilty that still wouldn’t be a saving grace for Pvt Manning. Even if it could be proven that classifying the clip as top secret was illegal that also would not be a saving grace because it’s not his call to determine that. I think what he did was right and noble, but it’s one of those situations where doing the right and moral thing comes with a heavy price tag. I hope for his sake he considered that and was willing to pay it. Whether or not he will spend the rest of his life in prison remains to be seen, but there is a slim to none chance he will found completely innocent or not guilty.

    • avatarJoseph Howard Crews says

      I think that most people, including Pvt. Manning’s most ardent supporters, acknowledge he broke the law. There are so many laws. There are good laws and there are bad laws. There are laws that conflict with other laws, so that if one upholds one law, one must break another law. Secrecy laws are among the worst laws.

      Oaths are particularly nettlesome. Soldier, presidents and religious zealots take oaths. Married couples make fidelity vows to each other, sworn on the Bible even. Oaths and vows are frequently broken, with changing realities, new truths and information and, and evolution of social mores and spiritual enlightenments. We are human beings who adjust and learn.

      Laws are not all on the same plane. Federal law supercedes local and state law. Constitutional law supercede Congressional statutes, and international laws and treaties supercede constitutional laws, but moral laws supercede both constitutions and treaties.

      It is quite extraordinary that a 20-year old Army private intuitively sifted through all this and make the morally correct decision, and was so morally convicted of his action that he stated he was willing to go to prison for life. That makes him an extraordinary American patriot. He has served with great honor, and every day he is in prison will magnifies that even more.

      The American pilots recorded in the “Collateral Murder” video will never be convicted of war crimes, because it would be too damaging to the false honor of the U.S. military, and even more so were Bradley Manning to be exonerated. Conviction of the pilots as war criminals and exoneration of Manning would be a nightmarish dilemma for the military. The fascist reality is the pilots will never be tried and Manning will be convicted.

      So, yes, there is no chance Manning will be found completely innocent. This will be the most toxic pill that U.S. military will have to ingest. In an historical context, the conviction of Bradley Manning will bring great dishonor to the Nation, because we will have slain the patriotic messenger, the dutiful whistleblower. For America it is a lose-lose situation.

      The only solution is a presidential pardon. After all, Obama is the Commander-in-Chief. But I do not think this hyper-conflict-averse president has the guts to do that. He could shut down Guantanamo prison tomorrow (despite the immoral Congressional law) and get by with it. The World would applaud him openly.

      Congress would never have the nerve to impeach Obama for shutting down Gitmo. The whole world would be watching to see if the light in Lady Liberty’s torch flickers and grows dark. And the louder John McCain and Lindsey Graham were to bellyache, the more villainous they would become. The same scenario would develop if Obama pardoned Pvt. Manning.

      But this conflict-averse president does not have to guts to do what is morally right. Pvt. Bradley Manning did. What a soldier!!

      But the president? Will he do what is morally (and pragmatically) right?

    • avatarPopsiq says

      Even if he claimed that he released that clip – which I don’t believe he has, it has to be proven in a court of law – in his case a military court. That has yet to be done.

      Even those charged with military crimes are, constitutionally, considered to be innocent until proven guilty.

      So what you, or I, or even the chief justice of the United States of America – the President think about his guilt or innocence should take a back seat to ensuring his constitutional rights under the UCMJ.

    • avatarMichael Hamrin says

      Mr. Goatskull, You’re point is well-taken and that perspective needs to be granted credence. The situation with Pvt. Manning needs to be handled in a more nuanced manner. In Manning’s pre-trial he specifically stated that he had never met Julian Assange and was certainly not coerced into releasing his treasure-trove of embarrassing insider information. That was honorable and just, since Asasange is on the government’s hit list. President Obama should not have snidely pronounced Manning as guilty before the man faces trial. Obama is an arrogant and dangerous operative, no doubt and he should be brought to account for his own disregard for the law. More importantly, however, was the extent of Manning’s inexcusable treatment in custody. In my view, if Manning deserves punishment, his gross mistreatment should be reckoned as sufficient punishment for the crime. After all, it has never been demonstrated that his whistle-blowing has cost the lives of anyone. Call it a wash and cut the man loose, but not as a hero whose example might embolden others to play fast and loose with classified military documents. Both sides need to cop responsibility.

      • avatarGoatskull says

        What you said is why he probably won’t actually spend the rest of his life in prison, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t have a crystal ball but he probably will still do some pretty serious time (again my opinion). Remember, he DID plead guilty so most of the charges but not all. Not sure which he did and didn’t. Another thing is the even if he does ultimately get released he may have to go in hiding for the rest of his life. I work on a military base in civil service and OMG it’s amazing how many military people I hear claim that if they could get away with it they’d personally like to end his life (and subsequently get an enjoyment out of offending and insulting any who support him). These are for the most part good people but very misguided. I’m sure it’s mostly just hot air on their part but there are enough crazies out there who could very well pull it off. If I were him I would leave the country incognito as soon as I get released.

  3. avatarBrent E. Beltrán says

    I only wish that if I ever had the opportunity to make a choice like Bradley Manning did that I would make the correct one. But I don’t know if I could. He is an American hero for taking the stand that he did. And he will pay the price for it.

  4. avatarbob dorn says

    There are some things we do for god and money that become more odious in the days after we’ve done them. Usually, it’s the money; there’s so much disagreement among and within the religions about what gods require of us that we can always justify one or another act, whichever helps us get through the conflict. But money?
    Anyone who’s worked for a corporation knows that there’s only one conflict: it’s the one that pits one’s own beliefs against what serves the corporation’s bottom line. America
    has been under corporate rule for many, many decades, now; the very language we’ve been using for decades establishes the fact. The military we send to wars in countries most of us can’t identify on a world map is part of the Defense Dep’t. Remember the
    old phrase, “terminate with extreme prejudice?” When we kill foreign citizens we call it “collateral damage.”
    That kind of language is corporate. It’s meant to undo the conscience by replacing reality with suggestion. But when a Bradley Manning comes along we have to face once again that our government is torturing people. That it intends to make the waging of war as easy as a video game.
    In theory, corporations are people. But the reality is, they are many people, and their corporate needs are thus more powerful than those of individuals. Our votes have become symbolic, fungible, a method of raising the incomes of some few and lowering the incomes of many.
    We all are going to have to keep Bradley Manning in front of us for the next few years. We will all have to consider what will be our own acts of courage and civil disobedience against what has become, as Mr. Joseph Howard Crews, above, has called, simply and truly, fascism.

  5. avatarAnna Daniels says

    I just read that the conviction of Ríos Montt for genocidal crimes and his prison sentence have been overturned by the Guatemala Constitutional court. A dark day for justice.

  6. avatarNo JOJO says

    Only reason Manning is kept in prison is to put the Jesus fear in all other military personnal not to bad mouth government. Notice after manning’s arrest–not a peep since his arrest. Just imagine if it was found that Sept 11 2001 attacks were USA self inflicted and government deemed top secret and exposure death penility?. Is that an excuse for Americans going rabid world wide.

    • avatarGoatskull says

      I’m looking forward to both seeing the film and reading the book Dirty Wars.