Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, Tuesday, May 21, 2013, before a pretrial military hearing. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The prosecution of Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks’ source inside the US Army, will be pulling out all the stops when it calls to the stand a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden. The SEAL (in partial disguise, as his identity is secret) is expected to tell the military judge that classified documents leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks were found on bin Laden’s laptop. That will, in turn, be offered as proof not that bin Laden had Internet access like 2 billion other earthlings, but that Manning has “aided the enemy,” a capital offense.
Think of it as courtroom cartoon theater: the heroic slayer of the jihadi super-villain testifying against the ultimate bad soldier, a five-foot-two-inch gay man facing twenty-two charges in military court and accused of the biggest security breach in US history.
But let’s be clear on one thing: Manning, the young Army intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of public documents and passed them on to WikiLeaks, has done far more for US national security than SEAL Team 6.
The assassination of Osama bin Laden, the spiritual (but not operational) leader of Al Qaeda, was a fist-pumping moment of triumphalism for a lot of Americans, as the Saudi fanatic had come to incarnate not just Al Qaeda but all national security threats. This was true despite the fact that, since 9/11, Al Qaeda has been able to do remarkably little harm to the United States or to the West in general. (The deadliest attack in a Western nation since 9/11, the 2004 Atocha bombing in Madrid, was not committed by bin Laden’s organization, though white-shoe foreign policy magazines and think tanks routinely get this wrong, “Al Qaeda” being such a handy/sloppy metonym for all terrorism.)