The mainstream press has focused on the decision of the judge in the military courts-martial of Bradley Manning to find him not guilty of “aiding the enemy”.
However, judge Denise Lind's conviction of of the whistleblower who exposed war crimes for 20 other charges amounts to a full-scale assault on democratic rights.
The courts-martial now enters the sentencing phase. Manning faces a maximum of 136 years behind bars.
Whatever the final sentence is, it is widely believed it will be decades in the military stockade.
Bradley Manning’s “crime” was to release to WikiLeaks proof of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many diplomatic cables detailing Washington’s machinations around the world.
WikiLeaks made much of this information available to The New York Times and other publications throughout he world. The release of some of these cables is widely credited with helping trigger the Arab Spring.
Coming down on Manning with an iron fist is part of the government’s drive to severely punish whistle-blowers who leak or publish information about its crimes.
It is an indication of what’s in store for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if US authorities ever capture them.
Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union said of the verdict: “It seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”
On the other side, Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee issued a joint statement that “justice and liberty has been served”. They added: “There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security.”
Six of the charges Manning was convicted of were violations of the notorious Espionage Act of 1917. These six charges themselves carry a maximum sentence of 60 years.
This law was used to go after thousands if activists from the Industrial Workers of the World and Socialist Party members for their opposition to World War I. SP leader Eugene Debs was convicted of breaking the act.
It has become President Barack Obama’s favorite club against “leakers”. Before Obama's administration, it was used three times, including against Debs and Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press. Under Obama, it has been used four more times less than five years.
Since the law is called the Espionage Act, one might think that Manning was convicted of spying. But he was not even charged with spying. He was charged with revealing the government’s dirty secrets to the world.
Speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been given political asylum from threats by Washington to give him the same treatment as Manning received, Assange said that the courts-martial was a “show trial” where no justice was possible.
Of the espionage charges, Assange said: “It is completely absurd. It cannot possibly be the case that a journalistic source, who is not communicating with a foreign power, who is simply working for the American public, can be convicted of six counts of espionage.
“That is an abuse, not merely of Bradley Manning’s human rights, but it is an abuse of language, it’s abuse of the US Constitution, which says very clearly the Congress will make no law abridging the freedom of the press or of the right to speech.”
Throughout the military trial, the prosecution repeatedly brought up WikiLeaks, portraying Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak the classified documents. It is increasingly likely that the government will seek to prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator.
That WikiLeaks is a target was emphasised by one of the obscure charges Manning was convicted of — “wanton publication”. The claim behind the charge is that WikiLeaks is not a legitimate journalistic organisation.
Assange also reported that based on discussions his lawyers in the US have had with the Department of Justice, they “believe that it is more probable than not that there is [already] a sealed indictment” against him.
The ongoing case against WikiLeaks is costing between $1 million to $2 million a year just to maintain the computer systems to monitor its documents.
Trevor Timm, the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said the Manning verdict brings the prosecution of Assange closer. Timm said: “Charging a publisher of information under the Espionage Act would be completely unprecedented and put every decent national security reporter in America at risk of jail.”
Snowden is another clear target. Now that Russia has granted him political asylum for one year, the White House is fuming, sputtering and threatening.
In a bid to stop Russia from taking this step, Attorney General Eric Holder sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter on July 23.
In the letter, Holder promised the US would not seek the death penalty against Snowden, nor would it torture him, if Russia turned him over to the US. That Holder had to give such reassurances reveals the potential threats facing Snowden should the US capture him.
Holder added that “the US doesn’t torture”. For this to be true, the definition of “torture” would have to exclude the inhumane practices at the US-run Abu Graib prison in Iraq, the maltreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the use of waterboarding and the treat of Manning in jail which was condemned by a United Nations envoy as “torture”.
One could conclude that what Holder was saying was the US government would do to Snowden what they did to Manning — since that was not “torture” by Holder's definition.
Incredibly, the White House also attacked Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for meeting with Snowden, claiming that gave him a “propaganda platform”.
The Manning verdict as a whole is a broadside barrage against free speech, freedom of the press, and the public’s rights to know about government crimes. However, the “not guilty” ruling concerning the charge of aiding the enemy was positive.
The prosecution never brought one shed of evidence forward that Manning’s revelations in fact aided the “enemy”, whomever that term refers to, presumably al-Queda. That is because there was not a scintilla of such evidence.
The government’s sole justification for the charge was that Manning had released material classified as secret to WikiLeaks, which turned it over to the mainstream press, which also published some of it. Thus the “enemy” could read it.
Under this reasoning, anyone who released to the press any classified information so that the enemy du jour could read it would be guilty of “aiding the enemy” and be sentenced to death or life in jail.
While Lind's ruling on this charge does not set a precedent for Snowden’s or Assange’s cases, it does make it more difficult politically for the government to prove that charge against them.
As Assange said: “Bradley Manning is now a martyr ... these young men, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, have risked their freedom, risked their lives, for all of us. That makes them heroes.”