So the long awaited court martial of Pte Bradley Manning has begun in the US. Pte Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges but is ready to defend himself against the charge of “aiding the enemy”. This court martial has been one of the most anticipated and long awaited cases that I can remember, most likely due to the massive scale of what happened, the reaction of the US government and the massive media coverage that followed the release.
For those that don’t know, Pte Manning was the person who handed the information to Wikileaks back in 2010 and then the disclosures began, ranging from private diplomatic communications to battlefield reports. The prosecution is going to argue that such disclosures were of “great value” to the enemy with Osama Bin Laden apparently benefitting from them, that they hurt the national interests of the US and endangered American lives. Manning’s supporters however lay claim that he was a whistleblower with a strong conscience and that he should be protected by those laws and found not guilty.
As it’s a court martial rather than a civilian trial, Pte Manning has elected to be tried by a judge rather than a jury. I would argue that’s probably a smart move as a judge has to be impartial and hear the arguments whereas even though a jury should be, you can understand why perhaps a jury could have already made up their minds in this case given the publicity.
In order to be found guilty of the most severe offense the prosecution has to prove that Manning INTENDED to “aide the enemy” and KNOWINGLY gave such adversaries US intelligence information. Regardless of what you think about the situation, that is going to be a hard sell. It’s quite a stretch to turn around and say that by whistle blowing he helped the enemy. I would argue that, perhaps, it was an unintended consequence but I am reluctant to believe it was deliberate based on what I have read and know thus far. Admittedly I am only going on what is public knowledge at this stage.
The other major point in all of this is what are the consequences of him being found guilty? What would it mean to others who wanted to become a whistleblower and leak classified information in the future if there was a legitimate reason to? Nowadays we live in a very connected world. News travels very fast and goes international quickly so it’s very difficult to contain. You would not be able to keep something off the internet and once it’s on there, it’s basically impossible to get off. Does this mean that if anybody were to attempt such a thing in the future they would be prosecuted? What would have happened about the Watergate scandal? This case and judgement could have far reaching and unintended consequences. We have to ensure that there are protections in place to make sure that there is an avenue there.
I will be keeping a close eye on this case so stay tuned for updates…