Bradley Manning verdict: Punishing the whistleblower while the war criminals go free

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Reactions to the verdict in the Bradley Manning trial were swift on Tuesday.

Though some found solace in the fact that the 25-year-old U.S. Army whistleblower was found "not guilty" on the "most outrageous" charge of "aiding the enemy," voices across the progressive community were expressing mixtures of outrage and sadness after Judge Col. Denise Lind found Manning guilty on 19 other counts that could lead to a sentence of more than 100 years in prison.

The Center for Constitutional Rights put out a statement, which read in part:

While the "aiding the enemy" charges (on which Manning was rightly acquitted) received the most attention from the mainstream media, the Espionage Act itself is a discredited relic of the WWI era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and antiwar activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blow the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment.

We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free. If the government equates being a whistleblower with espionage or aiding the enemy, what is the future of journalism in this country? What is the future of the First Amendment?

Manning’s treatment, prosecution, and sentencing have one purpose: to silence potential whistleblowers and the media as well.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange issued a long response which included this assessment of the case:

This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is ’espionage’.

President Obama has initiated more espionage proceedings against whistleblowers and publishers than all previous presidents combined.

In 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on a platform that praised whistleblowing as an act of courage and patriotism. That platform has been comprehensively betrayed. His campaign document described whistleblowers as watchdogs when government abuses its authority. It was removed from the internet last week.

Throughout the proceedings there has been a conspicuous absence: the absence of any victim. The prosecution did not present evidence that -- or even claim that -- a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s disclosures. The government never claimed Mr. Manning was working for a foreign power.

The only 'victim' was the U.S. government's wounded pride, but the abuse of this fine young man was never the way to restore it. Rather, the abuse of Bradley Manning has left the world with a sense of disgust at how low the Obama administration has fallen. It is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

Journalist Marcy Wheeler writes at Salon:

That Lind found Manning guilty of 20 charges is not a surprise. Manning himself had pled guilty to 10 lesser offenses the day he read his statement, pleading to "unauthorized possession” and “willful communication" of most, but not all of the items he was accused of leaking. On several of the charges -- notably, Manning’s leak of a video of Americans shooting a Reuters journalist -- Lind accepted Manning’s lesser pleas. [...]

But the big news -- and very good news -- is that Manning is innocent of the aiding the enemy charge. That ruling averted a potentially catastrophic effect on freedom of speech in this country.

Reporter Without Borders highlighted the important role leaks provided Manning played in exposing war crimes by the US government:

The verdict is warning to all whistleblowers, against whom the Obama administration has been waging an unprecedented offensive that has ignored the public interest in their revelations. It also threatens the future of investigative journalism, which risks finding its sources drying up.

"The information that Manning allegedly passed to WikiLeaks -- used by newspapers such as the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde in coordination with Julian Assange's website -- included revelations of grave abuses in the 'war on terror' launched by the Bush administration," Reporters Without Borders said.

“The ‘collateral’ fatal shooting of Reuters employees by a U.S. Army helicopter in Baghdad in July 2007 is a well-known example (see video). Should this reality have been concealed from the U.S. public and international opinion? Which was more serious – committing such crimes or revealing them to the public?

The ACLU's Ben Wizner director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, released this statement:

While we're relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

Since Manning 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.

Guardian journalist James Ball writes:

The prosecution of Manning was intended to send a signal. If nothing else, it has done that. It has shown that when faced with evidence of its own wrongdoing, the current U.S. administration focuses on punishing the messenger. It shows the first amendment is easier to honour in the abstract than in reality. And it risks sending a message to nations that routinely imprison, assault or even kill journalists and activists, that when it comes to the crunch, the supposed leader of the free world is not much different.

This trial has not been the proudest moment in America's history. It should serve as a warning to those who care about its future. And hopefully, it can also be a turning point.

Amnesty International also released a statement on the verdict:

It undermines accountability when the U.S. government is so selective about who it chooses to investigate and prosecute, Amnesty International said. This is particularly true when they seem intent on punishing those who reveal unlawful government behaviour and protecting those who actually engaged in or ordered such behaviour.

"Since the attacks of September 11, we have seen the U.S. government use the issue of national security to defend a whole range of actions that are unlawful under international and domestic law," said Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

"It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning's trial was about sending a message: the U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you're thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour."

And the Manning family released a statement, via Manning's aunt, to the Guardian, which thanked those who supported him and expressed a mixture of emotions on the heels of the verdict:

While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.

We want to express our deep thanks to David Coombs, who has dedicated three years of his life to serving as lead counsel in Brad’s case. We also want to thank Brad’s Army defense team, Major Thomas Hurley and Captain Joshua Tooman, for their tireless efforts on Brad’s behalf, and Brad’s first defense counsel, Captain Paul Bouchard, who was so helpful to all of us in those early confusing days and first suggested David Coombs as Brad’s counsel.

Most of all, we would like to thank the thousands of people who rallied to Brad’s cause, providing financial and emotional support throughout this long and difficult time, especially Jeff Paterson and Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network. Their support has allowed a young Army private to defend himself against the full might of not only the US Army but also the US Government.

 

Jon Queally is a staff writer with Common Dreams, where this article was originally published. It is reprinted here with permission. 

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