Frank Rich, parsing the Bradley Manning verdict and implications

A journalist I respect weighs in.

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The Chilling Manning Trial

August 1, 2013

by Frank Rich

New York Magazine via readersupportednews

esterday, Private Bradley Manning was convicted on multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act (which could result in 136 years of prison) but was found not guilty of the most serious charge against him, “aiding the enemy.” What do you make of the verdict?

What matters here is not that Manning was found guilty of leaking — which he admitted to and will not get anything like 136 years for — but that he was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy.” That “not guilty” is a good thing, but it doesn’t mitigate the reality that “aiding the enemy” was a bogus and dangerous charge in the first place. The fact that the government would even pursue it is chilling to a free press. Under the prosecution’s Orwellian logic, essentially any classified information given by a whistle-blower to a journalistic outlet (whether WikiLeaks or the Times, which published Manning-WikiLeaks revelations) amounts to treason if “the enemy” can read it. Well, the enemy, whomever it may be at any given moment, can read anything it wants on the Internet, the government can (and does) stamp its every embarrassing action “classified,” and so almost any revelatory investigative reporting on national security (the Pentagon Papers, the Abu Ghraib revelations, you name it) could in principle lead to the death penalty (even if that punishment wasn’t sought in the Manning case). That’s a powerful deterrent, clearly designed to stop whistle-blowers, reporters, and news organizations from taking the risk of uncovering government misbehavior. It’s a particularly devastating blow at a time when investigative journalism is shrinking anyway because of the financial woes of the news business. The Obama administration’s increasingly virulent efforts to shut down hard-hitting journalism — exemplified as well, recently, by the attempt to force Times reporter James Risen to testify in another leak case — is not just outrageous on First Amendment grounds but also makes you wonder what else the White House is hiding. Let’s not forget that high among Manning’s revelations were the cockpits videos chronicling the killing of civilians in an American air strike. What else is there that the Obama administration is so desperate to keep quiet that it will take on leakers with a virulence unmatched by any modern White House?

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