Bradley Manning departs the courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland, June 10, 2013. (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
In a key move, the military judge in a Fort Meade courtroom yesterday declined to throw out the most serious charge against Pfc. Bradley Manning of “aiding the enemy.”
Manning’s defense team had filed a motion requesting a “directed verdict”—an acquittal—claiming the government had presented no evidence that Manning had actually “aided” any enemies.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said the government had provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning knowingly gave information to enemy groups (like Al Qaeda) via his leaks to WikiLeaks in 2009. Manning, 25, faces spending the rest of his life in prison.
The prosecution then began its rebuttal of the case presented by the defense.
Defense lawyers claimed Manning did not intend for the documents to end up with Al Qaeda—he divulged information simply to “spark reform and debate.”
One angle: that e-mail he sent to The New York Times in April 2010 seeking to get them to publish his material. (He also failed to get a positive response from The Washington Post.) Prosecutors charged that this e-mail showed that Manning recognized that WikiLeaks was not a legitimate news organization.
Last week, Amnesty International officially called for the US government to drop the “aiding the enemy” charge.
Closing arguments may be heard today, with a chance that Colonel Lind will pronounce a verdict. Manning has already pleaded guilty to ten lesser offenses.
Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake, one of the very few journalists to cover virtually all of the Manning hearings going back to last year—and my co-author of a book on the case, Truth and Consquences—has an analysis here that gets at an added important angle.
Applying the standards she was to follow, it was probably to be expected that the judge would not acquit Manning at this stage. The key issue is, as American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, Ben Wizner, told Firedoglake, the judge continues to apply the wrong legal standard to considering the charge….
“Knowledge is not protective in the information age,” Wizner added. It is now “impossible to communicate to the public without communicating to the enemy.” Anyone from the Pentagon could get up and answer questions about the military and that information would become known to the enemy simply because it was broadcast on television or the video was posted online. So, in terms of Wizner’s example involving then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld holding a town hall with soldiers and answering a question from a specialist that military vehicles were not properly armored, that could be construed as “aiding the enemy.”
Sharing any information with the press becomes “aiding the enemy.” According to Wizner, “any member of the military including the Pentagon press secretary” could be guilty of committing an offense because they would have known the information would get to the enemy.
“All of this has a legal novelty,” Wizner stated. If he is convicted, it would be more difficult for the charge to stand up on appeal because it lacks the intent requirement. And lost in all of this is whom Manning intended to disclose the material: the public.
Amnesty International senior director for international law and policy, Widney Brown, reacted, “The charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous.” And, “What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet—whether through Wikileaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times—can amount to ‘aiding the enemy.’”
Brown noted that “the prosecution’s own witnesses repeatedly told the court that they found no evidence that Manning was sympathetic towards al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that he had never expressed disloyalty to his country, that they had no evidence that he had ties to any government other than his own.”
“It’s abundantly clear that the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ has no basis and the charge should be withdrawn,” Brown asserted. “This makes a mockery of the U.S. military court system.”
Chase Madar debunks seven myths about Bradley Manning.
Truth and Consequences was recently updated and is available in both print and ebook editions.