Manning’s supporters denounce “aiding the enemy” charge, accuse government of waging war against whistleblowers & journalists

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of PFC Bradley Manning at the front entrance of Fort Meade, Maryland on June 3, 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Jenny Jiang

Supporters of PFC Bradley Manning, including several high-profile government whistleblowers, denounced the Obama administration’s decision to seek a life sentence against the 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst for allegedly “aiding the enemy” by releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks.

The classified information leaked by Manning include the Apache “collateral murder” video showing U.S. troops shooting unarmed Iraqi civilians, the CIDNE databases on Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo detainee assessments, and more than 250,000 State Department cables.

Read more: Military prosecutors claim documents leaked by PFC Bradley Manning were found in Bin Laden raid

At a panel held on June 2nd, Manning’s supporters accused the Obama administration of trying to quash legitimate dissent and transparency by purposefully pursuing the harshest criminal charges against whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoings.

“There is a war on information going on in this country. It’s a war on whistleblowers. It’s a war on hacktivists,” said Jesselyn Radack, director of the Government Accountability Project and a Justice Department whistleblower. “As a whistleblower…you used to have to choose your conscience over your career. Right now, you have to choose it over your very freedom and it should not be that way.”

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that in any “reasonable” society, Manning’s guilty plea in February to lesser charges of mishandling classified information for which he faces a possible 20-year sentence would have sufficed given the nature of Manning’s violations.

However, as Ratner pointed out, the government’s decision to proceed with trying Manning on the “aiding the enemy” charge, which carries the death penalty, in spite of Manning’s guilty plea is intended to send a chilling message to whistleblowers and journalists.

“What’s happened is the government has decided the most repressive way possible to basically hit dissent, whistleblowing, and journalism with a sledgehammer,” said Ratner. “There are now a tremendous amount of information available. There are very smart people out there. Secrets of criminality are harder and harder to hide. So what the government wants to do is really send a message to all of us – ‘You disclose our secrets and you will be punished with a sledgehammer.'”

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers which helped hasten the end of the war in Vietnam more than four decades ago, said Obama’s heavy-handed approach in cracking down on whistleblowers is likely motivated by the President’s desire to maintain some of the objectionable national security policies from the Bush era but without blighting his popularity with pro-human rights liberals.

“I think it’s because [Obama is] carrying out policies – some of the same as before, some even worse by some respect – that are shameful, criminal deceptive, aggressive, and he has constituents who would not like that. It would embarrass him with people who voted for Democrat Barack Obama. And so it’s especially urgent for him to keep secret the very policies he inherited from George Bush, whose constituents thought these were dandy,” Ellsberg explained.

Read more: List of the classified information released to WikiLeaks by PFC Bradley Manning

Ellsberg noted that three years after Manning’s arrest, no one has been shown to have been harmed by the release of classified documents that he uploaded to WikiLeaks.

On the other hand, as Ellsberg and other supporters have brought up, Manning’s revelation of indiscriminate killings of civilians, torture, and other wrongdoings by the U.S. has informed the public on the true cost of war, which helped ensure the full withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

“Tens of thousands of American troops – men and women – would be in harm’s way in Iraq right now…if it were not for Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks,” said Ellsberg.

Ratner warned that government transparency and accountability to the American public are at stake in the case of United States v. PFC Bradley Manning.

“We’re at an incredibly important moment because it’s a struggle over whether we will have a government in which we know what it’s doing, know its criminality, know its hypocrisy, know its corruption or will they close up every hole they have,” said Ratner.

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  1. Pingback: Court Martial of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning | What The Folly?!

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