By ANN MONTAGUE
U.S. Army whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning has been acquitted of the Obama administration’s charge of “aiding the enemy,” which had a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and could have included the death penalty. But obtaining that verdict is a modest “victory.”
On July 30, a military judge convicted Manning of 20 other charges, including violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, releasing classified information, and disobeying orders. These convictions could add up to a maximum 136 years in prison.
Manning released to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and other documentation of war crimes. These included the video known as “Collateral Murder,” which shows the slaughter of a group of people in Iraq including Reuters journalists and those coming to the rescue of people who were injured and dying as a result of the machine gun fire from a U.S. helicopter. There was also a diplomatic cable confirming that U.S. Special Forces had raided a civilian house in Iraq in 2006. The soldiers executed a man, two children, and three infants—who were all shot in the head.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, stated that Manning was the victim of a show trial, and that the verdict was “an example of national security extremism.” He said that the acquittal on the count of “aiding the enemy” was a red herring since convictions on all other counts could still amount to life in prison. The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, ruled out of order any testimony regarding motive, although it might be allowed during the sentencing phase of the trial.
Manning was arrested three years ago. At first, the U.S. attempted to portray him as mentally imbalanced. In 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reported in Vanity Fair as claiming that Manning had “psychological problems” and referring to a non-existent “drag-queen boyfriend.” Using his alleged mental sickness as a pretense, along with the claim that he was at risk for suicide, the military threw Manning into solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and forced him to sleep naked without sheets or pillows. Even a military judge called the treatment of Manning “excessive.”
But following Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, which tore the lid off of U.S. government efforts to pry into millions of internet and phone communications, the stakes have become much higher. These revelations have generated an international outcry—not least from several governments who were the target of U.S. spying. Washington is desperate to halt the leaks and to defame and punish the whistleblowers.
Accordingly, Manning is no longer deemed to be “sick” by U.S. officials but to be an arch-criminal and traitor, who deserves the maximum sentence. Colonel Lind’s ruling against Manning is certain to raise the bar for other whistleblowers who might face government or military prosecution. And it will increase the threats to freedom of the press.
Julian Assange and Edward Snowden will be the next targets. The government alleged in the courtroom that Manning was working as a co-conspirator with Assange and WikiLeaks. Michael Ratner, Assange’s U.S. attorney, pointed out to reporters, “That’s a very bad sign about what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.”
In June of this year, hundreds of members of the San Francisco LGBT community organized a “Free Bradley Manning” contingent for the San Francisco Pride March. As the trial moves into the sentencing phase, it is important to continue marches and rallies protesting the Bradley Manning show trial.