Bradley Manning Verdict Shows the New Normal For Whistleblowers

On Tuesday, Army Private First Class Bradley Manning was convicted on 19 of 22 counts by a military judge. He had pleaded guilty to 10 of those charges from the start of the trial. He was found not guilty of the most serious offense, UCMJ Article 104, better known as “Aiding the Enemy.”

Despite the prosecution’s failure to prove that he aided the enemy, this verdict will come to be known as the defining moment for what I see as the true Obama Doctrine: the War on Whistleblowers.

Manning leaked more than 700,000 documents to the Wikileaks organization in an attempt to start a national debate about U.S. foreign policy. In his personal statement at the start of the trial, Manning said that the cables were largely related to dehumanizing and illegal activities. The most famous of these activities he referenced was the video that Wikileaks titled “Collateral Murder.”  

The Obama administration, which actively campaigned to protect whistleblowers — individuals who expose illegal or illicit activities within the organization to which they are affiliated — has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the draconian, Woodrow Wilson-era Espionage Act than all other presidents combined. Manning was found guilty on five counts of violating the Espionage Act.

The Obama administration has also taken steps to ensure that further leaks do not happen again, by institutionalizing a culture of whistleblower-spotting and reporting. But just what type of leaks is the government actually trying to stop?

Years ago, President Obama was asked about the secret drone assassination program at a press conference. He responded that he could not comment on the matter or verify the program’s existence, because it was classified. But then he went on national television at the 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner and joked about assassinating the Jonas Brothers with Predator drones if they mess with his daughters. 

Obama's charming, open admission of his use of drones for the purposes of assassination did not carry into the next year. When the Obama administration was sued to present evidence in a court of law for why his government placed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, on a secret assassination list (and skirting due process), the government refused, invoking the "State Secret Privilege," saying that the evidence is so secret that they could not even disclose it in court

Yet again, this logic did not carry into the future. Mr. Obama reversed course again and decided that it wasn't so secret after all. He openly discussed the case and the "evidence" against Awlaki, after he was killed, on Jay Leno. This story recently resurfaced after the father of Anwar al-Awlaki released an astonishing op-ed in the New York Times asking how the U.S. government could have this sort of authority. 

There are far too many examples of this corrupt, asymmetrical application of the law. The U.S. government permits the leaking of classified information when it is politically expedient, but not when it is contrary to its grand scheme of control. This is what is most dangerous about the Bradley Manning case — that an individual will be prosecuted with extreme prejudice if they disclose state secrets, even if those secrets expose illegal and illicit activities. But every "Senior Government Official" referenced in the New York Times or Washington Post will not be prosecuted or even sought after. This is helping to foment an insidious groupthink culture that is too afraid to speak out when something is illegal or nefarious, even if an employee leaves the organization.

Overall, the Manning case was an astounding victory for big government and the national security state. It sends a message to all those who serve in the military or government agencies: Fall in line, or else.