The Bradley Manning WikiLeaks case enters the sentencing phase next week. The defense team for U.S. Army private Manning will present evidence today, Monday, August 12, 2013. Private Manning will make a statement to the court the following Wednesday. The 25-year-old Manning faces up to 90 years in prison for perpetrating what has been called the largest leak of classified government information in U.S history.
Manning WikiLeaks case background
In 2009 Private Manning served as a military intelligence analyst reviewing sensitive information about US military and diplomatic operations in the Middle East.
On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks posted a video on the web site CollateralMurder.com. The July 12, 2007, video showed Apache helicopters shooting at civilians. At a news conference held in Washington, D.C., a WikiLeaks spokesperson told the press that it had obtained the encrypted video from military whistleblowers. A U.S. defense official confirmed the authenticity of the video and audio.
CollateralMurder.com explained how Reuters had tried through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the footage itself without success. “The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded,” the site said.
On July 6, 2010, then 22-year-old Private Manning was charged with taking classified materials and turning them over to persons who were not authorized to have them.
Moreover, the charges indicated that Manning had “reason to believe that such information could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation, in violation of 18 U.S. Code Section 1030(a)(1), such conduct being prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces and being of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
Damage or debate?
At a pretrial hearing Manning said that he had turned over the video, military logs and cables in order to encourage debate about the role of the military and the ramifications of U.S. foreign policy.
Just what did Manning reveal? In a June 4, 2013, post for Slate.com titled “Ten Revelations From Bradley Manning’s WikiLeaks Documents,” Ryan Gallagher listed some of the more significant items, including:
- a spying campaign on United Nations officials
- a black-ops death squad whose victims included innocent civilians
- an advisory from the U.S. Embassy in Paris that Washington initiate a trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops
“Although Manning’s disclosures totaled some 720,000 records — the largest security breach in U.S. history — the leak still amounted to less than 1 percent of the almost 77 million documents reportedly classified by U.S. government agencies in 2010,” Gallagher concluded.
Manning and Assange: Fates intertwined
In July 2013 Manning’s court martial concluded with a verdict of guilty on charges of espionage. The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, found Manning not guilty of the charge of giving intelligence to the enemy. During the almost two-month-long trial, prosecutors portrayed Manning as a deliberate traitor who understood the damage his actions would cause. For their part, defense attorneys insisted that Manning acted from good intentions.
As Manning’s trial played out, WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange watched from his refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Should Assange ever fall into U.S. hands, he will likely be prosecuted as a co-conspirator for publishing the secret cables provided by Manning.
Treatment under the law
Whatever sentence Manning receives for his actions, can Assange expect to be held to the same standard? Perhaps not. In his article for the May 2012 Federal Communications Law Journal titled “WikiLeaks and the First Amendment,” Geoffrey R. Stone explained how in wartime, free speech and national security can conflict.
Stone offered an example of such a dilemma in proposing a fictional scenario where a report revealed vulnerabilities at certain nuclear power plants. Disclosure of this information could alert terrorists who might wish to exploit the vulnerabilities. On the other hand, disclosure to the public could encourage an outcry and a demand that officials take action and be held accountable.
Generally speaking the first amendment allows the ordinary individual to reveal information to journalists for publication. However, a public employee, like U.S. Army private Manning, will likely be judged according to the Espionage Act.
“A criminal prosecution of Julian Assange or WikiLeaks would thus violate the First Amendment. On the other hand, as a government employee, Bradley Manning was subject to more significant restrictions on his freedom to leak classified information, He is therefore in a much more vulnerable position,” Stone explained.
You can read about the constitutional and legal issues in our collection of law journals at Questia, the Internet’s largest online library of full-text books and articles.