The most important court case taking place over the last month has involved no hoodies or homosexuality. This case does not arouse the primitive groupthink and culture wars into which so many recent high-profile cases have devolved. However, while the trial of former Army Private Bradley Manning offers no edgy photo to adorn the tabloids, the proceedings offer a clear picture of American society. Without hyperbole, the outcome of this trial may reveal whether America remains a nation of free and sovereign individuals, or a mass of subjects under the authority of a military-intelligence state.
On Thursday, Col. Denise Lind, the judge presiding over Manning’s case, sent an ominous sign for Bradley and for freedom of speech, re-affirming the most serious charge against the former Army private. Previously, the defense motioned to omit the charge of “aiding the enemy,” on the ground that Manning did not knowingly offer information to Al-Qaeda or any enemy combatants. Government prosecutors rebutted that Manning knew that terrorist groups would scour the information on WikiLeaks. The prosecution’s premise asserts that offering intelligence to a third party constitutes aiding the enemy if the enemy might uncover the materials. Judge Lind seems to agree.
In a few quick logical connections, the trial of Bradley Manning for the charge of “aiding the enemy” would put on trial the existence of independent investigative journalism. The prosecution has already made those connections. In a move which she may regret, Capt. Angel Overgaard affirmed that Manning would have faced the same charges whether he had given the information to WikiLeaks or the New York Times. Previously, in the most similar high-profile case regarding the leaking of military secrets, Daniel Ellsberg ultimately faced no penalty for leaking the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times. However, the judge in that case left much ambiguity, dismissing the charges against Ellsberg due to governmental misconduct rather than acquitting him on principle.
With courts’ past ambiguity on the release of sensitive information, the unprecedented case of Bradley Manning could set some foreboding precedents. For instance, if Col. Lind finds Manning guilty of “aiding the enemy” — and there is no difference between a leak to WikiLeaks or to the New York Times — then not only WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but any journalist publishing information that the government does not want published, could face fierce charges from the Department of Justice. Indeed, the Department of Justice has declared that any soldier who speaks with WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters is subject to charges of “communicating with the enemy,” implying that WikiLeaks itself is the enemy. If there is no difference between WikiLeaks and mainstream newspapers, then it appears that the government aims to wage war on journalists — and, therefore, on freedom of speech and thought.
A new scandal emerges every other day regarding egregious violations of liberty by another arm of the Leviathan government — the IRS, the Department of Justice, the NSA, and the U.S. military, to name a few recent perpetrators. The government has engaged more frequently than ever before in criminalizing men and women whose only crime was speaking the truth. (In case you live under a rock, see Edward Snowden.) Whether the government aims benevolently to protect our national security or not, all Americans — and all dignified human beings who reject Orwellian totalitarianism — must oppose the outlawing of truth and the war on speech.
And the innocent Bradley Manning must be free.