WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning has been declared guilty on many charges. But on principle, someone like him should never have been allowed to have access to volatile information.
Bradley Manning did not receive a life sentence, but could theoretically face over 100 years in prison. Bradley Manning is guilty — but not entirely. And Bradley Manning is innocent — but only in the sense of the most serious charges.
The decision announced by military Judge Denise Lind on Tuesday against the informant, who confessed to the main charges, will satisfy neither side.
Manning, who has already been in military prison for three years and from the viewpoint of his supporters is a heroic whistle-blower, will presumably still have to spend many more years in prison — in theory, the total of 20 convictions could even add up to a century. The 10 charges to which Manning confessed alone would have been sufficient for a sentence of up to 20 years.
Prematurely Waiving the Death Penalty
The prosecutors, on the other hand, have seen their central charge shattered: that Manning is not only a “traitor” (which Lind confirmed), but also that he knowingly supported the enemy (which Lind negated). Such an offense could be punished by execution, even if the prosecuting authority in this particular case earlier waived the death penalty.
However, they wanted to make an example in a time where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden, further bearers of secrets, have shared their sensitive information with the public.
Violations of the anti-espionage law on five counts and five charges of theft of government material, among others, were recognized by Judge Lind. That in no way hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of investigative journalists in similar convictions, contrary to how some commentators represent it.
This is because usually media people do not break into networks or offices when they publish secret information, but instead they let the documents be leaked to them. But while the danger for journalists does not increase, it grows for the informants who hand out secret documents. This has to be alarming for every journalist who has occasionally had classified information in his hands — and for the readers interested in such backgrounds.
'Naïve Young Man'
Lawyer David Coombs had portrayed Manning in the military tribunal as a “naïve” but well-intentioned young man who merely wanted to inform the public about abuses. Yet this downplaying belittles the deeds. The video from Manning that was launched on WikiLeaks of the lethal helicopter attack on perceived rebels in Baghdad, who were later identified in part as journalists, is definitely informative.
But this “collateral murder” document was, as lawyer Coombs stated in court, not even classified as secret. And all of the other documents have long since faded away from the news frenzy without having revealed especially political misdoings of the U.S., which Manning claimed as the motive for his actions.
The hundreds of thousands of diplomatic dispatches that Manning likewise dug through were often interesting and sometimes at least amusing to read. But they belong in public just as little as the minutely detailed reports from the fronts out in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A private first class, who was repeatedly made aware of the strict confidentiality regulations, cannot presume to give himself the competency to first steal these classified documents and then distribute them.
No Hero, Instead Guilty
Manning is therefore no hero, but instead guilty. But this brings us to the other side of the story. It poses the question of how such an immature man, with doubts about his personality and sexual orientation, bullied by his comrades and plagued by complexes, could ever have received access to top-secret documents.
Manning was already a security risk due to his instability. There were many warning signs in his behavior that should have shown his superiors that Manning was the wrong man for the sensitive post.
Instead of dismissing him or at least transferring him, they allowed him to keep his top-secret security clearance. Manning was a computer freak, and the military needed that in the war zone in Iraq. Yet those responsible parties, for whom filling short-term personnel shortages was more important than security, represent a security risk themselves.