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After an eight-week trial, Army Private First Class Bradley Manning has been found guilty of 19 out of 22 criminal counts, including five counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, five counts of theft, one count computer fraud and some other military infractions, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. If given the maximum sentence he could spend 136 years in prison.
Manning was responsible for hundreds of thousands of documents leaked to the news organization WikiLeaks, including the well-known “Collateral Murder” video, where a US helicopter shot down one Reuter’s journalist and two camera men, along with hitting a van who stopped to aid the wounded, injuring two children and killing the father. Eleven people were killed in total.
To put this leak into perspective, it was the largest leak in U.S. history. Larger than both Daniel Ellsberg’s disclosure of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s NSA leak. Ellsberg even claimed Manning’s leak was more significant by far than his own leak.
After spending over 11 months in solitary confinement and a total of three years in prison, Manning was eventually brought to trial. Before his court-martial began, he plead guilty to 10 lesser charges, bringing his approximate max sentencing to 20 years. He spoke for over an hour as to his reasoning for the leaks. Manning’s statement would have been confined to the closed courtroom had not journalist Alexa O’Brian quickly transcribed it to create a rough transcript.
When speaking about the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, Manning stated, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within… it could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” Luckily, due to the hard work of journalists we were able to get Manning’s reasoning in his own words, something the government may not have disclosed otherwise.
What is amazing about the case of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is the inability for the few journalists committed to covering the case to do their jobs, the overall lack of serious coverage by corporate media, and the frightening usage of aiding the enemy as a charge.
Most of the press passes requested for trial coverage were denied and journalists had to leave the courtroom in order to tweet or email information about the case. There was no internet access in the press room and the government refused to release transcripts of the hearing.
Kevin Gosztola, one of the few journalists to cover the entire trial, spoke with Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, on July 30th and explained how impossible it was for journalists to cover the trial. He claimed the tensions between the press and military public affairs officers became more and more hostile by the time the verdict was read. He also discussed how the internet was suspiciously not working at all, phones were not allowed, the use of WiFi hot-spots was not allowed, and right before the verdict was to be read, journalists were told that if they left the courtroom to even use the restroom they may lose their privileges to re-enter.
Eight members of the press were there for the sentencing, according to Xeni Jardin, one of the eight journalists present.
Freedom of the Press had to hire a stenographer to get transcripts of the trial to the public. This trial was under as much lockdown as possible. The only time the public actually was able to hear Manning’s explanation of his actions was after someone in the courtroom snuck in a recording device and leaked it to Freedom of the Press. This was the only time the public was able to hear Bradley Manning speak.
The corporate media has avoided the trial almost completely and in my opinion gives the impression there is a contest of who can spend the least amount of time covering Manning’s case. Even as the verdict was announced, BuzzFeed found that the top three cable news channels (FOX, CNN and MSNBC) spent an average of five minutes covering the verdict.
This is absolutely disgraceful. Not only because this was the largest leak in U.S. history, but because the case against Manning threatened the future ability of journalists and whistleblowers alike.
Aiding the enemy was such a serious charge because it would have set a precedent that no matter if information is leaked to WikiLeaks, The New York Times, or al Qaeda it would all fall in the same category, espionage. The government’s argument being that, although Manning gave his leaks to a news organization, he unintentionally supplied terrorists with damaging information that ‘threatened American lives.’ Therefore, he committed treason.
The Obama Administration’s policy has shown the campaign stance on whistleblowers Obama ran on, that accountability is key and transparency is necessary, has been completely backtracked on or was full of hot air to begin with. He seems to make a clear point on his campaign site about the importance of whistleblowers:
“Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.”
Remember, Manning spent three years in federal prison before receiving due process and Snowden was a federal employee. At least the US government has promised not to torture or kill Snowden.
The Obama administration has proven to have a very different stance than President-elect Obama promised. Including the case against Manning, the Obama Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any previous administration, combined. This clearly is not ‘empowering’ whistleblowers as Obama so eloquently put it.
The administration has also set a frightening new precedent on attacking whistleblowers with the Espionage Act, which previously had been mainly used against spies, not leakers. In fact, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to prosecute seven individuals, including Edward Snowden. The previous count charged under the Espionage Act was three.
As a person who has followed this case since the beginning, I find it hard to view this verdict as anything but overzealous and overreaching. It has sent a clear message to people like Edward Snowden and other potential whistleblowers, don’t mess with the US government or else we will come down on you with the full force of the law and then some.
I agree with Ben Wizner, of the American Civil Liberties Union, when he said of Manning, “Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”
I find it hard to believe that his trial and extended conviction was nothing more than a show to scare people into silence. Let’s hope that is not the end result.