As we mentioned earlier today, Bradley Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act while acquitted of the separate charge of “aiding the enemy.” The former Army private now “faces a possible maximum sentence of more than 130 years in military jail after he was convicted of most charges on which he stood trial.” Paul Waldman and Jaime Fuller’s take:
It’s one thing to have only limited sympathy for Manning—after all, he didn’t just leak evidence of government malfeasance, he leaked hundreds of thousands of documents, most of which showed no one doing anything wrong, and the indiscriminate dump surely did damage to American diplomatic efforts. But if he had been convicted of “aiding the enemy,” it would have set an extremely dangerous precedent. National security leaks happen all the time—those who report on the topic wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without them—and if every time someone in the Pentagon passed a tidbit to a reporter they could be charged with something akin to treason, the chilling effect would be, well, chilling.
Manning was many things—you can call him misguided, overzealous, or foolish if you like. But had the court called him a traitor, we would have entered territory we don’t want to visit.
Fred Kaplan, who called it a “moderate” verdict, is on the same page:
Had the judge accepted the argument and found Manning guilty of the [“aiding the enemy”] charge, the implications would have been profound. By such a verdict’s logic, The New Yorker could have been accused of aiding the enemy for publishing Seymour Hersh’s article about the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib. Hersh’s intention may have been to call attention to war crimes being committed by U.S. officers in Iraq, but a prosecutor could certainly have argued that the story served al-Qaida’s interests; and it’s certainly true that the revelations over Abu Ghraib were used as recruitment tools by jihadists worldwide.
Though Manning dodged the “aiding the enemy” charge, Dan Gillmor still worries about press freedom:
By finding Manning guilty of five counts of espionage, the judge endorsed the government’s other radical theories, and left the journalism organization that initially passed along the leaks to the public, Wikileaks, no less vulnerable than it had been before the case started. Anyone who thinks Julian Assange isn’t still a target of the US Government hasn’t been paying attention; if the US can pry him loose from Ecuador’s embassy in London and extradite him, you can be certain that he’ll face charges, too, and the Manning verdict will be vital to that case.
DJ Pangburn wants us to revisit the Espionage Act:
How could an act written in 1917 possibly address or, rather, handle the complexity of a whistleblower of Manning’s scale and intent? The fact is that the Espionage Act of 1917 was never written with Bradley Manning in mind. Its goal was not to address whistleblowing at all, but the delivery of intelligence to foreign governments. …
Now, it is one thing to create the legal mechanism to prosecute spies who deliver information to the enemy. But it is quite another to prosecute a soldier, or any American for that matter (journalists, for instance) for publishing documents that shine a light on shameful deeds. Manning wasn’t paid for his work by any foreign nation or agent. He wasn’t working on anyone’s behalf apart from his countrymen. All of this is to say that the Espionage Act needs to be amended to make room for whistleblowers. Because, as it stands, any whistleblower is at the mercy of the law, and the President’s particular whistleblower policies.
Looking back, Peter Walker runs through all the secret information we now know as a result of Manning’s leak.
(Photo: US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning leaves a military court facility after hearing his verdict in the trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on July 30, 2013. Colonel Denise Lind found Manning guilty of 20 of 22 counts related to his leaking of a huge trove of secret US diplomatic cables and military logs to the WikiLeaks website. She said she would begin sentencing hearings on July 31 at the Fort Meade military base outside Washington where the trial was held. By Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)