The fact that Bradley Manning is being punished for exposing government crimes, lies, and misdeeds is a travesty unto itself, if you ask me. But charging him with “aiding the enemy” – which is punishable by death – is just piling on.
In court on Tuesday, Manning’s defense lawyers tried to get a significantly reduced jail time sentence due to the fact that Manning was held in abusive conditions – solitary confinement 23 hours a day, kept under a strict suicide watch and often ordered to strip naked. The judge lifted a pitiful 112 days off of Manning’s potential life sentence.
The absurd charge of aiding the enemy – as if Manning had some connection or intention with al-Qaeda – refers to Manning’s alleged leak of classified material to WikiLeaks, a website. The ACLU explains:
The key to the government’s case is this simple claim: that posting intelligence information to the internet aids Al Qaeda because Al Qaeda has access to the internet.
…The government does not contend that Manning gave any information to Al Qaeda, or even that he intended that Al Qaeda receive it. Rather, it claims that Manning “indirectly” aided Al Qaeda by causing intelligence information to be posted on WikiLeaks’ website, knowing that Al Qaeda has access to the internet. Specifically, the government contends that Manning violated Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides that “any person who . . . gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.”
Article 104 is not limited to sensitive or classified information — it prohibits any unauthorized communication or contact with an enemy. So, if the government is right that a soldier “indirectly” aids the enemy when he posts information to which the enemy might have access, then the threat of criminal prosecution hangs over any service member who gives an interview to a reporter, writes a letter to the editor, or posts a blog to the internet.
Manning’s attorneys have tried to get the judge to throw out these ridiculous charges, but the judge has refused. While the prosecution claims the charges are appropriate, Manning’s lawyers point out, apparently without objection, that such aiding the enemy charges have never been used this way. Politico’s Josh Gerstein:
“Publishing information in a newspaper [can] indirectly convey information to the enemy,” prosecutor Capt. Angel Overgaard said Tuesday during the pretrial hearing. She said courts in past cases had recognized that such disclosures could constitute aiding the enemy.
However, defense attorney David Coombs said those cases date to the Civil War and involve publishing coded messages, not conveying information evident to everyone on its face.
“Every case that charges Article 104 [aiding the enemy] deals with somebody who had given information directly to the enemy. This case is unprecedented,” defens attorney David Coombs said during the session. “There’s been no case in the entire history of military jurisprudence that dealt with somebody providing information to a legitimate journalistic organization and having them publish it and that involved dealing with the enemy.”
Daniel Ellsberg is today almost universally considered a hero for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971. He wins awards, goes on television, he’s a renowned figure and activist. The material he leaked to the press was designated Top Secret, and – partly due to the abuse he was subjected to by the government for it – he was able to live out his life in freedom. Contrast that with Manning, who leaked nothing marked Top Secret, all of it was marked Secret or Classified – much lower secrecy classifications. Yet, he possibly faces charges akin to treason and punishable by death. What an outrage!