Escalating The War On Whistleblowers

Supporters Of Army Pfc Bradley Manning Rally At State Department

Yochai Benkler fears the possible long-term consequences of the Bradley Manning case:

Secrecy is necessary and justified in many cases. But as hard-earned experience has shown us time and again, it can be—and often is—used to cover up failure, avarice, or actions that simply will not survive that best of disinfectants, sunlight.

That’s where whistleblowers come in. They offer a pressure valve, constrained by the personal risk whistleblowers take, and fueled by whatever moral courage they can muster. Manning’s statement in court yesterday showed that, at least in his motives, he was part of that long-respected tradition.  But that’s also where the Manning prosecution comes in, too. The prosecution case seems designed, quite simply, to terrorize future national security whistleblowers. The charges against Manning are different from those that have been brought against other whistleblowers. “Aiding the enemy” is punishable by death. And although the prosecutors in this case are not seeking the death penalty against Manning, the precedent they are seeking to establish does not depend on the penalty. It establishes the act as a capital offense, regardless of whether prosecutors in their discretion decide to seek the death penalty in any particular case.

(Photo: Code Pink for Peace demonstrator Tighe Barry chants in front of the U.S. State Department to protest the resignation of State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and the detention of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning March 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. Two days after saying the treatment of the accused WikiLeaker was ‘ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,’ Crowley resigned. The demonstrators stripped their clothing off to protest against the treatment of Manning, who has been allegedly held naked in a Marine Corps base in Virginia. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)