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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Open season on leakers

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after receiving a verdict in his court martial. Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced, but was convicted of espionage, theft and other charges, more than three years after he spilled secrets to WikiLeaks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after receiving a verdict in his court martial.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The successful prosecution of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning gives a boost to the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of people it believes have leaked national security secrets to the media.

Manning was acquitted Tuesday of the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy, but he was found guilty by a military judge of enough charges to send him to prison for many years, and perhaps the rest of his life.

Legal scholars said they expect the government’s case against National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to be similar to the Manning prosecution, although it would take place in a federal trial court, not a military court-martial.

“I don’t think Edward Snowden is doing a jig in his airport lounge in Russia,” said Elizabeth Goiten, co-director of the liberty and national security program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Prosecutors were able to convince Army Col. Denise Lind that the reams of documents Manning gave to WikiLeaks constituted violations of the Espionage Act, despite the arguments of Manning’s lawyers that he chose to hand over information that he believed would not harm the United States.

Goiten said Lind determined that Manning’s intent was irrelevant, although his motives come into play when the judge considers his sentence.

“He could be convicted even if he had the purest of motives,” Goiten said. “What that says is that the Espionage Act will not distinguish between traitors and whistle-blowers.”

Before Lind announced her verdict, Manning supporters and advocates of press freedoms worried that a conviction for aiding the enemy would have a chilling effect on leakers who want to expose government wrongdoing because the charge carries the potential for the death penalty. Manning’s prosecutors said they were seeking life in prison for the Army private, not death.

But in the end, Manning’s convictions under the Espionage Act and the prospect of many years behind bars could have much the same effect.

Charles “Cully” Stimson, manager of the national security law program at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said the verdict appropriately reinforced the potential cost to those who want to expose government secrets.

“I think what this sends loud and clear to anyone like Snowden or anyone contemplating being the next Snowden is, if you have given over documents, unauthorized, to anyone, you’re looking at serious time in jail,” said Stimson, a former Bush administration defense official who still serves as a military judge.

The Obama administration has pursued unauthorized disclosures of secret information much more aggressively than any of its predecessors. It has pressed charges under the Espionage Act in seven criminal cases.

In addition, a federal appeals court ruled on July 19 that New York Times reporter James Risen cannot shield his source when he testifies at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking information about a secret CIA operation.

The court ruling combined with Manning’s conviction will make people think twice before talking to reporters, Boston College law professor Mary-Rose Papandrea said. “It sends a really strong message to would-be leakers that they are facing the potential of prosecution,” Papandrea said.

Like Manning, Snowden has acknowledged leaking classified information. The former NSA systems analyst provided information showing that the agency has gathered millions of telephone and Internet records to ferret out terror plots.

The Justice Department is not discussing how it would prosecute Snowden, who is holed up at a Moscow airport, although Attorney General Eric Holder has said the U.S. had no plans to seek the death penalty against him. It is unknown at this point whether the administration will get Snowden to return to the U.S., either voluntarily or through extradition. But if that happens, “at the end of the day, the charges are going to look very similar” to those against Manning, American University law professor Stephen Vladeck said.

One difference may be greater transparency if Snowden is put on trial in civilian court, where Vladeck said a judge would be less likely to close large portions to the public.

Manning also opted to be tried by a judge instead of a jury. Except in death penalty cases, military juries do not have to be unanimous.

Jurors in civilian criminal trials must all agree in order to reach a verdict.

Stimson said Snowden may benefit from “a little more sympathy for a civilian disgorging himself of information he believes the public needs to know, than a military person.”

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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3 thoughts on “Open season on leakers”

  1. Prosecutors were able to convince Army Col. Denise Lind that the reams of documents Manning gave to WikiLeaks constituted violations of the Espionage Act…”

    Unfortunately, this is yet another case where “classified” means “covering up embarrassment”.

    The Espionage Act deals specifically with giving aid and comfort to the enemy IN TIMES OF WAR.

    So, precisely who is the “enemy” in this case, and where is the formal Congressional declaration that we are at war?

    What’s more, at the time, I believe it was Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta who said that what PFC. Manning leaked to the press was “embarrasing” to the United States but in no way constituted a grave threat to national security.

    So why is PFC. Manning now facing up to 150+ years in jail over an “embarrasment”?

    Unfortunately, I know (from my own personal experience passing judgement on others under the the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)) that “military justice” is an oxymoron.

    Indeed, under the UCMJ, simply being late for work is punishable by a reduction in rank and forfeiture of pay. And, would you believe that being convicted of adultery under the UCMJ is a FELONY?

    The truth is that the only “war” the United States Government is now engaged in is an all-out, frontal attack on our beloved US Constitution, all in the name of a pumped up, multi-Trillion dollar fraud called the “War on Terror”.

    The bottom line here is that, just Like me, when he joined the US Military, PFC. Manning took an oath to “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against ALL enemies, both foreign AND DOMESTIC”.

    In my mind, by leaking “embarrasing” details to the population at large about the absolutely blatant assault our “domestic” US Government is now waging against our Constitution, he was actually doing his sworn duty.

  2. That little traitor is going to spend the rest of his pathetic life in prison. Good!

    Now we need to get that other traitor Snowden and put him away for life as well!

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