Friday, August 2, 2013

Scott Lemieux: Hard To Justify Bradley Manning's Prosecution

Bradley Manning was cleared of the most serious charge, knowingly "aiding the enemy," while convicted of most charges regarding his disclosures to Wikileaks. Scott Lemieux (left), assistant professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose, considers the Manning case in light of the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers, the implications of the charge of "aiding the enemy," Manning's harsh treatment in military custody and the fact that leakers are prosecuted while those who implemented policies of torture are not:

It is notable and welcome that the government could not convince [Colonel Denise] Lind, [the military judge who presided over the court-martial], that Manning was guilty of aiding the enemy under the Espionage Act. Since this charge rested on the theory that releasing any information the government would rather keep quiet is "aiding the enemy" by definition, the dangers of convicting Manning can hardly be overstated. The idea that transparency aids the enemy is the same theory behind prosecuting newspapers for publishing the Pentagon Papers. The dismissal of these unprecedented charges is an important victory against overbroad contstructions of the Espionage Act.

The belief that the soldier was not merely guilty of illegal leaks, but also a traitor, was presumably the reason for his gratuitously cruel treatment. This treatment should be remembered and cannot be defended whatever one thinks of the merits of the charges against Manning.

...The question of whether the charges were wise or appropriate in the first place is also less than settled. As Glenn Greenwald observed on CNN last night, leaks are the basis of investigative journalism, and are thus prosecuted very selectively. Absent evidence of concrete harm, it's hard to justify the prosecution of a whistleblower like Manning. The harsh prosecution of Manning is particularly hard to justify in light of the other priorities of the administration. Torture clearly violates federal law, and is a much more serious offense than leaking information—it harms the security interests and reputation of the United States to boot. Nonetheless, torture has gone systematically unprosecuted. It's very hard to square Bradley Manning facing decades in prison while the people who designed and implemented torture policies under the Bush administration walk free.

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