It has been a more than three years since the initial leaks of classified information were posted on Wikileaks. Bradley Manning has faced many issues during that three year span – not the least of which being the unnecessarily harsh conditions of his confinement when held in a brig in Quantico – and he will continue to face many more for the foreseeable future.
However, one issue has stood out above all others: being charged and possibly convicted for aiding the enemy, for releasing classified information to Wikileaks – information that Manning reasonably believed demonstrated human rights violations and potential war crimes by the U.S. government.
The charge seemed like a stretch from the get-go. But after hearing the evidence, the prosecution presented to support such a charge, it became painfully obvious that the government was trying to make an example of Bradley Manning: regardless of your motives, if you leak government information you will pay with your life, literally.
[pullquote text=”The U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior, even while it looks the other way when it comes to punishing that behavior you may be attempting to expose.”]The central argument for the aiding the enemy charge is that Manning knowingly leaked the materials to Wikileaks, a counter-intelligence organization dedicated to exposing the secrets of big governments whose site is possibly, potentially…ok, maybe…frequented by terrorist organizations. By following the logic proffered by the prosecution, releasing information to or posting it on the New York Times or Washington Post websites, let alone Facebook, twitter or your personal blog, risks a lifetime in prison.
However, Judge Col. Lind announced on July 30, 2013 what those following the trial have suspected all along, that the prosecution was unable to prove that Bradley Manning aided the enemy or had an evil intent when he released those documents.
While spared the penalties of a conviction on the most serious charge, Manning still faces the potential of spending a lifetime in prison. He still faces more than 100 years in prison for the other nine charges he was convicted of today and the 10 charges to which he already pleaded guilty back in February, a lifetime for someone who is only 25 years of age.
The chilling effect of this overreach on potential future whistle-blowers may be impossible to gauge. However we do know this: The government was zealous in its prosecution of Manning, but is all-too forgiving when it comes to government officials and agents responsible for grave human rights violations – ranging from torture to arbitrary detention to enforced disappearance – carried out under the auspices of the U.S. government’s apprehension, detention and interrogation program. For them, we’re lucky to see a slap on the wrist.
While July 30th’s decision in the Manning case was not as bad as it might have been, the message is loud and clear all the same: The U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you’re thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior, even while it looks the other way when it comes to punishing that behavior you may be attempting to expose.
Editor’s Note: What do you think of the Bradley Manning verdict? Add your comments below.