Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bradley Manning found guilty, while the real criminals remain free

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Following up on my post from earlier, (courageous whistleblower) Bradley Manning was indeed found guilty today, just not on the most significant, and most ridiculous, charge:

A military judge on Tuesday found Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of "aiding the enemy" for his release of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks for publication on the Internet, rejecting the government’s unprecedented effort to bring such a charge in a leak case.

But the judge in the court-martial, Col. Denise R. Lind, convicted Private Manning of six counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and most of the other crimes he was charged with. He faces a theoretical maximum sentence of 136 years in prison, although legal experts said the actual term was likely to be much shorter.

While advocates of open government celebrated his acquittal on the most serious charge, the case still appears destined to stand as a fierce warning to any government employee who is tempted to make public vast numbers of secret documents. Private Manning's actions lifted a veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world, and engendered a broad debate over what information should become public, how the government treats leakers, and what happens to those who see themselves as whistle-blowers. 

Okay, well, let's look at the elements of that debate:

First, according to the U.S. federal government -- which, let us not forget, is currently led by Democrat Barack Obama -- no information should become public that is in any way sensitive regarding national security (or pretty much any other area), and certainly no information that might in any way expose what the government is really up to, not least its criminal or even questionably ethical activities.

Second, the U.S. federal government treats leakers like traitors.

Third, the U.S. federal government, including the military, tortures whistleblowers and persecutes them relentlessly.

A fierce warning? Yes, I'd say so. Cross the government, expose its criminal activities, and you're done for.

Now, it's great that Manning was aquitted on the charge of "aiding the enemy," but let us not forget that the government pursued that charge right up to the end. And no doubt it will do so again, if at all possible, with the next whistleblower.

On the other hand, it's quite likely that the Obama White House is privately content with this outcome. The president has rightly been taking a lot of heat over NSA surveillance, from a combination of both left and right, and his approval numbers have been declining. Yes, the government wants Edward Snowden back to prosecute him for that leak, but a guilty verdict for Manning on a stupid, trumped-up charge like "aiding the enemy" would only have given Obama's critics -- and I'm one of them on this -- even more cause for criticism. (For this reason, it's possible that Obama is privately content to let Snowden find asylum, avoiding a high-profile trial back home.)

Now, there's no doubt that Manning will go back to jail. A presidential pardon would be most just, but that isn't happening, and the judge isn't about to let him off with a slap on the wrist (though, of course, he has already been in custody for three years, facing gross mistreatment, so that's hardly just a slap). I would hope for a fairly minimal sentence, one that would allow him to be paroled in a few years, but perhaps that's unlikely as well. In any event, let's hope for a fair sentence that recognizes that Manning did not aid the enemy and is a whistleblower who acted in the service of the American people, not a hardened criminal.

Bradley Manning, after all, was just the messenger, not the criminal. He didn't kill innocent civilians, he just helped expose the crimes.

And for that he is being punished.

But shame on the government, and shame on President Obama, just as on Bush and his crew before him, and everyone else involved in this travesty. They will not be held to account for these crimes, and therein lies the true injustice here.

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