Bradley Manning Denied Whistleblower Defense. Faces Life in Military Prison under Espionage Act
2013-01-21 0:00

By Naomi Spencer |

The defense team for Army Private Bradley Manning will not be allowed to present evidence of his motives behind the intelligence leaks for which he faces 22 charges, a military judge ruled Thursday. The ruling, which is not available to the press or the public, underscores the fraudulent and anti-democratic character of the entire case.

The 25-year-old soldier is accused of transmitting hundreds of thousands of government and military documents to whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, which published the material. Among the documents were evidence of war crimes, including a video WikiLeaks published under the name “Collateral Murder,” showing US military helicopters gunning down Iraqi civilians, journalists and first responders in cold blood. Other documents made clear that the US vastly underreported civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Army Colonel Denise Lind, the judge overseeing the ongoing pretrial hearings at Fort Meade, Maryland, granted a government motion that questions of conscience and “good faith” are irrelevant in the case. This strips Manning of any potential legal protection offered under a whistleblower status and prevents any discussion of the content of the leaked material from reaching the American public.

Manning was detained on May 26, 2010, after computer hacker Adrian Lamo turned a series of chat conversations over to the US government. In the logs, Manning allegedly described collecting the materials while working as an Army intelligence analyst in Baghdad. He reportedly told Lamo that he felt compelled to act out of good conscience. The government and military networks, he said, contained “incredible things, awful things…that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC.”

Manning faces life in military prison under the Espionage Act. Prosecutors for the Obama administration argue that he is guilty of “aiding the enemy” for leaking information that was subsequently made available on the Internet to anyone, including enemies of the United States. If Manning is convicted, the case will set a dangerous precedent for other whistleblowers, as well as media and watchdog organizations, journalists, bloggers, and anyone who accesses information that the government deems sensitive to US interests.

This is precisely the Obama administration’s intent. During arguments January 9, prosecutors explicitly stated that the government saw no difference between WikiLeaks and newspapers such as the New York Times. Like the bulk of the Manning hearing to date, this declaration received little media attention.

In her ruling Thursday, Lind said Manning’s motive could not be considered as a factor until the young soldier either entered a plea or was found guilty. At that point, Lind said, Manning’s rationale could become a factor that might influence a reduction in his sentencing. The Justice Department is no doubt eyeing a plea agreement that would require Manning to testify in a future military trial against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Lind also blocked the defense team, led by civilian lawyer David Coombs, from presenting evidence that the publication of documents that Manning is accused of leaking caused no harm to US security or personnel.


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