The Manning verdict: Why throw the book when you can catapult the library?

Army private and whistle-blower Bradley Manning was found guilty of 19 separate charges at his court martial on Tuesday. He was not convicted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carried the death penalty. The convictions include six violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. These convictions alone could cost Manning 60 years behind bars. The espionage convictions are considered especially chilling to the press, as now news “sources” can be prosecuted for much more serious charges. Taken together with the recent 4th circuit court of appeals decision against James Risen, which allows a journalist to be jailed for not revealing a source, the net effect is will be to force the press to participate in the potential life imprisonment of any person who reveals war crimes if the government classifies documents related to those crimes.

The prosecution was heavily favored by the presiding judge and the Manning trial was fraught with a number of irregularities that will almost certainly lead to appeals. The sentencing phase of the trial is expected to take another three weeks. Manning faces a maximum penalty of 136 years minus the over 1000 days he has been in jail along with another 112 days extra credit granted by the judge for the time he was held naked in solitary confinement under conditions that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called “cruel and inhuman.” Not inhumane, “inhuman.”

In violation of the military proscription against command influence on court martial trials, Commander in Chief Obama publicly claimed that Manning “broke the law.” Obama's influence may well go to the heart of the military judge's not guilty verdict on the single charge of aiding the enemy. If Manning had been found guilty on that count, the imposition of the death penalty would have required Obama to directly sign the judge's finding. President Obama orders the murder of people without trial every Tuesday morning when he and his national security staff review where drones will strike. Ordering an execution openly is different, as it would almost certainly dampen Europe's enthusiasm for the rendition of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange in the future.

President Obama certainly thought it was okay to torture Manning while holding him without trial for over 1000 days, “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.” By this statement alone, the President has proved he was directly involved in Manning's case – signing off on treatment that lead to a guilty plea on some charges. That guilty plea and the torture that produced it would not yield a sentence draconian and chilling enough, so a military kangaroo court was convened to potentially saddle Manning with another century and a third of hard time.

The judge permitted the prosecution to change the specifications on the charges of theft that Manning faced after the defense had rested and the trial was closed, yet before the verdict. Essentially, for nearly half of the prison time that Manning now faces, he was convicted without trial. The defense prepared to defend against one set of charges, and the prosecution changed those charges after the defense had rested.

Many of Manning charges are redundant. He is charged with espionage for stealing and releasing documents to the press, and charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for stealing the same documents while using a computer, as noted by Thus theft charges, which were amended without trial, are really double charges to the espionage charges. Thus decades of Manning's life could be erased by redundant charges that he was not even actually legally tried for. This is after pleading guilty to enough charges to cost himself 20 years. This is the view we are given into the absurdist heart of what we call justice in post-constitutional America.

The compliant media has mentioned the interest of a dead man, Osama bin-Laden, in Manning's releases many more times than they have mentioned that Manning revealed the death of four of their colleagues from Reuters by releasing the video footage that became Wikileak's movie “Collateral Murder.”

Many journalists have been killed or imprisoned in America's first cyberwar by drone. The point of Manning’s trial, where one time Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama intervened to lock up three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bradley Manning, is to frighten journalists who are not cowed by a small amount of jail time. The message has been sent. Here at the offices of the Columbus Free Press, we see Obama's lips move, but all we hear is the shredding of the First Amendment.

Date Originally Published: 
Friday, August 2, 2013
Article originally published at: