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Death Penalty For Bradley Manning, The Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower?

Pfc. Bradley Manning

Alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been in US custody since last May, after he reportedly told a former hacker that he had passed thousands of classified US military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, had 22 new charges filed against him on Tuesday by the US Army, including a capital offense — “aiding the enemy” — for which the government has said it will not seek the death penalty, although, as Wired explained, “under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the presiding judge ultimately decides what charges to refer to court-martial and whether to impose the death penalty.”

Manning, who is is held at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, is waiting to hear whether a mental health hearing requested by his attorney will be allowed to proceed. His mental health has been in question due to the perceived severity of his solitary confinement, and the undoubted pressure exerted on him by the administration, which has been humiliated by WikiLeaks’ revelations over the last nine months, including the “Collateral Damage” video, the Afghan and Iraqi war logs, and the diplomatic cables whose release dominated headlines in the closing months of 2010. I discussed the concerns about Manning’s mental health in my articles, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?, Psychologists Protest the Torture of Bradley Manning to the Pentagon; Jeff Kaye Reports and Former Quantico Commander Objects to Treatment of Bradley Manning, the Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower.

As well as being charged with “aiding the enemy,” Manning has also been charged with “five counts of theft of public property or records, two counts of computer fraud, eight counts of transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and a count of wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy … Five additional charges are for violating Army computer security regulations.”

According to the Guardian, “Pentagon and military officials say some of the classified information released by WikiLeaks contained the names of informants and others who had cooperated with the US military in Afghanistan, endangering their lives. According to the officials, the US military attempted to contact many of those named and take them into US bases for their own protection. Military officials told NBC News that a small number of them have still have not been found, with one official quoted as saying: ‘We didn’t get them all.’”

Observers are closely watching developments in Bradley Manning’s case, because of the possible ramifications for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who is currently in the UK, fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden to face sex charges. Assange’s supporters fear that the proposal to extradite him to Sweden is a thinly veiled attempt to secure his onward extradition to the US, although it is still not clear that the US government has any grounds for calling for his extradition, because, unlike Manning (or whoever it was who leaked the information to WikiLeaks), Assange can argue — and has many defenders prepared to argue also — that WikiLeaks is essentially a media organization. As such, the argument goes, WikiLeaks has dealt with leaked classified material that has a compelling public interest angle by doing what media outlets have regularly done with such material — publishing it.

In addition, the fact that Assange chose, last summer, to establish collaborative relationships with mainstream media — the Guardian, Der Spiegel, the New York Times and others — who, with the cables in particular, dictated what to publish, and when, ought to strengthen this argument, although as the charges stand, the “enemy” that Bradley Manning is accused of “aiding” is clearly WikiLeaks, and, by extension, the major newspapers who worked with WikiLeaks, and, I guess, the readers of those newspapers, even if the narrow intent is to focus on informants endangered in Afghanistan.

Neither WikiLeaks nor Julian Assange are mentioned in the charge sheet against Bradley Manning, who faces a life sentence in prison if convicted on the latest charges — if, that is, he avoids the death penalty for something that, despite the hyperbole emanating from the corridors of power in the US, has primarily been a source of embarrassment and a sign that the opening up of access to classified documents after 9/11 to an estimated three million US government employees was a whistleblowing disaster waiting to happen.

Those interested in Bradley Manning’s case can visit the website of the Bradley Manning Support Network to contribute to his legal funds, or to find out more information about his case. When the news charges were announced, Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network (and Courage to Resist) wrote:

I’m shocked that the military opted to charge Pfc. Bradley Manning today with the capital offense of “aiding the enemy.” While the military is down playing the fact, the option to execute Bradley has been placed on the table. It’s beyond ironic that leaked US State Department cables have contributed to revolution and revolt in dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa, yet an American may be executed, or at best face life in prison, for being the primary whistleblower. Millions of Americans, and even more internationally, clearly understand the contribution of Pfc. Manning towards not only freedom of information, but literally freedom itself. It’s hard for me to reconcile that with the US Army’s additional criminal charges against Pfc. Manning today.

Andy Worthington, a regular contributor to The Public Record, is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and the definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. He maintains a blog at andyworthington.co.uk.

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