is TRUTH the enemy? : bradley manning sticker, san francisco (2013)
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On July 30, in a military trial at Fort Mead, Maryland, war crimes whistleblower Bradley Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy (the most serious charge against him) but was found guilty of 19 other charges. While serving as a Private First Class in the U.S. Army, Manning had released hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks which exposed U.S. war crimes and other government misconduct. Doing so led to his court-martial.
In response to the verdict, Amnesty International suggested that the U.S. government needs to reassess its priorities: "The government's priorities are upside down. The U.S. government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence," said Widney Brown, Amnesty's senior director of international law and policy. "Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing - reveal credible evidence of unlawful behavior by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the U.S. Constitution and in international law... It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning's trial was about sending a message: the U.S. government will come after you, no holds barred, if you're thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behavior."
In other words, U.S. policy is to shoot the proverbial messenger.
The lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) agree. The CCR had filed a case challenging the lack of transparency around the Manning trial. Now, in the wake of the verdict, the CCR has released a statement condemning the charges against Manning related to the Espionage Act: "[T]he Espionage Act itself is a discredited relic of the WWI era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and antiwar activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blow the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment."
The CCR statement goes on to question the future of journalism and the First Amendment itself: "We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free. If the government equates being a whistleblower with espionage or aiding the enemy, what is the future of journalism in this country? What is the future of the First Amendment?"
Indeed. And it's not just journalists and whistleblowers who should be worried.