Obama's war on whistleblowers suffers setback
US President Barack Obama's war on whistleblowers has suffered several setbacks.
Two high-profile prosecutions against whistleblowers failed and the mistreatment of alleged WikiLeaks source, military analyst Bradley Manning, has been confirmed.
The cases show a pattern of vindictive harassment against anyone involved in leaking information the US government deems “secret”.
These cases are part of a broader attack on the public's right to know what governments do behind closed doors.
A US military enquiry into Manning's treatment at Quantico military prison in Virginia, where he was held between July last year and April, confirmed that on two occasions he had to endure stringent and intrusive “suicide watch” conditions after doctors recommended his status be downgraded, Politico.com said on July 14.
On at least 20 occasions, doctors also recommended Manning be removed from “prevention of injury” status, a level below suicide watch. Brig commanders chose to continue the harsh conditions.
The report glossed over other forms of mistreatment, such as prolonged solitary confinement, being prevented from doing exercise and being made to stand naked to attention for hours at a time.
Public pressure over Manning's treatment led to his transfer to Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas in April, under less harsh conditions.
The US government has continued to block the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez from holding a private meeting with Manning, BradleyManning.org said on July 12.
Mendez said: “It is imperative that I talk to Mr Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.”
Manning has been held without trial since May last year for allegedly leaking thousands of secret US government documents to media outlet WikiLeaks.
Many believe his mistreatment was aimed at forcing him to incriminate WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange.
Manning could face life in jail or the death penalty under the charge of “aiding the enemy through indirect means”.
The leaked documents gained worldwide attention for exposing lies and crimes of the US government and its allies.
The US government has sought to make an example of Manning and has harassed those involved in the campaign to support him.
Ongoing secret grand jury proceedings in Virginia are aimed at gathering evidence to implicate Manning and Assange for the crime of espionage. Several Manning supporters invoked their right to silence when they were forced to appear at hearings in June.
Manning supporter and free information advocate Aaron Swartz was arrested for illegally downloading more than 4 million articles from academic journal database Jstor, the New York Times said on July 24.
Even though Jstor said it was not interested in prosecuting Swartz, the US government said he could face 35 years in prison and US$1 million in fines.
The US government has defended its harassment of the Bradley Manning Support Network founder David House, TechDirt.com said on August 1.
House had launched a lawsuit after his laptop was confiscated at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when he returned from Mexico. House was detained for questioning for several hours.
The computer was kept for 49 days and was returned only after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter on House’s behalf to the government.
The justice department said in court documents that it kept the computer longer than the 30-day limit because government agents struggled to operate House's customised system, Wired.com said on July 28.
The government said it downloaded House's hard drive “for purposes of litigation”.
Another blow to Obama's war on whistleblowers came on July 15 when Judge Richard Bennett of the US District Court for Maryland released former National Security Agency analyst Thomas Drake, Glenn Greenwald said in a July 30 Salon.com article.
Drake was sentenced to one year of probation and 240 hours of community service. He originally faced 35 years jail for leaking information that exposed corruption, serious waste and possible criminal activity at the National Security Agency.
Bennett attacked the justice department for ruining Drake's life by dragging the case out for four years, only to drop the most serious charges at the last minute.
The judge also rejected the prosecution's call for Drake to be fined $50,000 as “a deterrent”.
Prosecutor Anthony Rolland said the fine would send “a message” to other whistleblowers, reflecting the Obama administration's real reason for trying the case.
A separate court ruling found NYT reporter James Risen would not have to reveal the source of leaked information about serious ineptitude at the CIA, Greenwald said.
The justice department hoped to implicate former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who it accuses of being the source of information that appeared in Risen's 2006 book State of War. The book caused major embarrassment for then-president George W Bush.
Before his election, Obama promised a whistleblower-friendly government. Despite this, his administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any US government before it.
[For more information on Manning, visit www.bradleymanning.org .]