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A Disturbing Warning for the Media at Bradley Manning Hearing | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

A Disturbing Warning for the Media at Bradley Manning Hearing

Much news emerged from the latest pre-trial hearings in the case of Bradley Manning yesterday. I’ll get to most of it later today, but for now: Mannng has been given 112 days off whatever sentence he gets due to cruel treatment when he was at Quantico. However, his trial has now been delayed at least another three months, virtually wiping out that gain. Other key developments in brief:

—Prosecutors claim they have chat logs of a direct back-and-forth between Manning and Julian Assange in 2010, and they even joked about a New York Times article. This has been rumored for some time—and the linchpin of that long-running grand jury probe on Assange, no doubt.

• Also alleged in court for first time: Osama bin Laden requested, and received, from an Al Qaeda operative, some of the State Dept. cables released to WikiLeaks—but how important is this in light of The New York Times and other top publications publishing or summarizing hundreds of them?  Which leads to:

• Claims that the Times and other media—not just the leakers—could be/should be charged in similar cases.  Here’s how that paper’s Scott Shane recorded one exchange.

Colonel Lind, the judge, asked a prosecutor a hypothetical question: If Private Manning had given the documents to The New York Times rather than to WikiLeaks, would he face the same charges?

“Yes, ma’am,” said the prosecutor, Capt. Angel Overgaard.

The New York Times and other mainstream publications published hundreds of the documents Private Manning is accused of leaking. The Justice Department is carrying out an investigation of WikiLeaks to determine whether Mr. Assange or his associates can be charged with a crime. Media advocates say such a prosecution would be a dangerous precedent for news organizations like The Times that frequently obtain and publish information the government considers classified.

More on this angle from the great Amy Davidson at The New Yorker this morning:

According to the AP, prosecutors singled out an 1863 case in which a soldier named Henry Vanderwater was convicted of giving a command roster to a Virginia newspaper, which printed the information. “Publishing information in a newspaper [can] indirectly convey information to the enemy,” a prosecutor quoted by Politico argued. Can anyone aid the enemy by giving information to a reporter? Are reporters aiding the enemy if they publish it—and who, by the way, is “the enemy”?

There are other charges against Manning—twenty-two in all—and he has indicated that he would be willing to plead guilty to seven of them. (His trial, which was supposed to start in March, has now been delayed until June.) But aiding the enemy is a charge of a different degree than simply exposing classified information. It involves intent and carries heavier penalties. It is also the sort of charge that, in wartime, or anytime, almost invites overreach. Would it aid the enemy, for example, to expose war crimes committed by American forces or lies told by the American government? In that case, who is aiding the enemy—the whistle-blower or the perpetrators themselves?

Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian adds this:

In other words, the theory being used to prosecute Manning would convert almost every government source for newspapers into a traitor. Given that, it’s extraordinary how relatively little interest, let alone opposition, large media outlets have expressed about this prosecution.

Indeed, the New York Times—despite massively benefiting from the leaks that allegedly came from Manning—had to be shamed by independent bloggers present in the courtroom and its own Public Editor into finally sending a reporter to cover the proceedings (the Guardian, by contrast, has sent a reporter, Ed Pilkington, to cover most of the hearings). The fact that the Obama DOJ is prosecuting one of the NYT’s alleged sources—and threatening to imprison one of that paper’s most accomplished investigative journalists, James Risen—makes clear that this threat to journalism is far more real than theoretical….

But whatever else is true, the theory now being used to depict Bradley Manning not as a whistle-blower or leaker, but as a traitor, is one that can be—and almost certainly will be—just as easily applied to the vast majority of leaks on which investigative journalism has always relied. Perhaps media outlets beyond the Guardian and independent blogs might want to take a serious interest in this fact and marshal opposition to what is being done to Bradley Manning: if not out of concern for the injustices to which he is being subjected, then out of self-interest, to ensure that their reporters and their past and future whistle-blowing sources cannot be similarly persecuted.

Greg Mitchell's many books include,  on Bradley Manning, "Truth and Consequences" (with Kevin Gosxtola) and "The Age of WikiLeaks."

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