Inside a small courthouse on the Army base in Fort Meade, Maryland, Army prosecutors are presenting closing arguments in their case against Pfc. Bradley Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of government documents to Wikileaks.
According to Maj. Ashden Fein today, the 25-year-old former intel analyst betrayed his country’s trust and handed government secrets to Julian Assange in search of fame and glory, knowing that in doing so, the material would be made visible to Al Qaeda and its then-leader Osama bin Laden.
Manning's lawyers argue that he was acting from conscience, and is a principled activist who wanted Americans to know the truth about wars conducted in their name. He has already pled guilty to lesser charges, but the government continued to press on with charges of violating the Espionage Act and "aiding the enemy."
"The flag meant nothing to him," said military prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein today. "He ultimately knew what he provided to WikiLeaks would make its way to the enemy because he knew the enemy used WikiLeaks."
But journalists used Wikileaks, and as Yochai Benkler argued in the trial, Wikileaks at the time unquestionably functioned as a journalistic organization. And Manning reached out to news organizations first; only when he was rebuffed did he attempt to contact Wikileaks. If he wanted to “knowingly” give “intelligence to the enemy," as the charges state, there were more direct ways to connect with Al Qaeda than by way of a leaks clearinghouse that was partnering with the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel.
Maj. Ashden Fein said the former intelligence analyst in Iraq was not the troubled and naive soldier defense attorneys have made him out to be. Fein displayed a smiling photo of Manning from 2010 — when he was giving sensitive material to WikiLeaks — and said “this is a gleeful, grinning Pfc. Manning” who sent battlefield reports to WikiLeaks, accompanied by the message: “Have a good day.”
As the trial has moved toward its conclusion, the more philosophical questions confronting the judge, Col. Denise Lind, are re-emerging center stage — including whether WikiLeaks played a journalistic role and whether providing information to the anti-secrecy group was any different, for legal purposes, from providing it to a traditional news outlet.
The most serious charge against Private Manning, aiding the enemy, is a capital offense that has never before been brought in a leak case. Prosecutors took the possibility of execution off the table, saying they would instead seek a sentence of up to life in prison if Private Manning was convicted of it.
Critics of the case have warned that a conviction would establish a precedent that such a charge and the government’s theory on which it is based — that giving information to an organization that publishes it online is the same as giving it to an enemy — is justified in leak cases.
Kevin Gosztola, Firedoglake, posts an overview of prior cases where military officers were charged with "aiding the enemy":
David Coombs, Manning’s civilian defense attorney, said on July 15 that the government has “taken a very, very unique position” on this charge. “No case has ever been prosecuted under this type of theory, that an individual by the nature of giving information to a journalistic organization would then be subject to a 104 offense [aiding the enemy].”
“To avoid the slippery slope of basically punishing people for getting information out to the press to basically put a, I guess, a hammer down on any whistleblower or anybody who wants to put information out,” there should be an “intent requirement.” So, if your intent was to use and organization to indirectly get it to the enemy,” that could make you guilty of “aiding the enemy.”
Coombs also stated, “In this instance what the government is advancing here today, at least is extremely bad precedent, if what happens is you can give information to who you think is a journalistic organization that would publish it, and by the fact that you should have known that the enemy might eventually get it, you can be punished by 104 [aiding the enemy].”
Kevin is liveblogging the closing arguments here.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.