The saga of Bradley Manning is far from over, we’re not even at the end of the beginning, let alone the end.
If you’ve been in a cave for the last few years, Bradley Manning is an Army Private who hated the Army for a variety of reasons – reportedly some related to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – and who stole some 700,000 classified files and gave them to WikiLeaks who publicized them. I won’t bother with the details beyond noting that the files were classified and Manning somehow had managed a Top Secret clearance.
The facts of the case were never in doubt, he admitted stealing the files and releasing them. The issue was what he might be guilty of. The usual suspects, the ACLU, etc. were convinced Manning was being used as an object lesson for future “whistleblowers” because he was tried under the Espionage Act. Those on Manning’s side contend that he was just “publicizing wrongdoing”. Many on his side insist he’s a “hero”.
The most serious charge was “Aiding the Enemy”, essentially a charge of treason. The New York Times has a pretty good summary of the trial.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors sought to portray him as an “anarchist” and a “traitor” who recklessly endangered lives and betrayed his country out of a desire to “make a splash.” The defense portrayed him as a young, naïve, but good-intentioned humanist who wanted to prompt debate and who avoided releasing documents that could cause harm.
The military judge found Manning “not guilty of the most serious charge, “Aiding the Enemy”. She then found him guilty of a number of charges under the Espionage Act related to stealing and releasing the documents. He was found guilty on twelve separate charges that carry a maximum of ten years each as well as several minor charges. All told, Manning faces up to 136 years in prison.
The sentencing phase of the trial starts tomorrow and could take several weeks, the appeals will likely outlast me.
With respect to the charges, the trial, the verdict and the upcoming sentence, I have a few thoughts.
First of all, the charges and the verdict. As a baseline let me note that Manning violated is military orders and his security clearance by releasing the information. I could never square the “Aiding the Enemy” charge because, honestly, in this day and age the only enemies the Obama administration recognizes are the Tea Party and a handful of Conservative Republican Reps and Senators. We are not in a state of war, according to the Commander in Chief, so the “Aiding” finding of not guilty is appropriate.
The second issue I have the “Aiding” charge is that the information released, at best, simply caused some embarrassment at high levels in the State Department. I think that one of the biggest lessons here is the level of crap that qualifies for “Top Secret”.
I do think the charges related to the “Espionage Act” were appropriate as is the finding. Manning had a sworn duty to protect the information under his charge and he was derelict in that duty.
The trial. I don’t know all that much about military courts but I do know that there are a number of specifics that are quite different from a civilian court. That said, the only judgment I’ll pass on the process is that the Court went out of its way to protect Manning’s rights and I think that only the most hardened leftists (think CodePink) will find a problem with the judicial process and the trial. I happen to think that is a good thing because it will quell the wining aftermath of the guilty verdicts.
The Sentence. We don’t have that yet so all I have here is opinion.
I’m somewhat empathetic to arguments that Manning’s release didn’t actually “do harm”. I’m also empathetic to the idea that our classification systems are, to be polite, arcane. That said, a US Army Private is not now, has never been, and we hope never will be the individual in the chain of command who decides what should be Top Secret and what shouldn’t.
I personally hope the judge in this case gives Manning the maximum allowable sentence and that he serves it consecutively not concurrently. I hope the Army takes this opportunity to make a statement to the effect that “if you violate your security clearance enjoy the sunrise and sunset on the day you do it because you’ll never see another”.
Given that the Army is, unfortunately, the most politically correct of the services and the one that consistently bends to the whims of those who – in my opinion – consistently seek to destroy the cohesiveness of the US military, I don’t expect the judge to pay much attention to my sentencing recommendation.
The aftermath. I’m interested to see the judge’s commentary on the findings, they will likely generate much more heat and light than the verdict. With respect to appeals, I don’t really expect them to go anywhere, the verdict and the sentence will stand.
Now, onto Edward Snowden…