The alleged source of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, US military analyst Bradley Manning, faces the death penalty after the US Army added 22 charges to the 12 Manning already faces.
PFC Manning is being held at a Virginia Marine Base under extreme conditions, and supporters have been harassed by Marine Corps guards and prevented from seeing him.
To date the only publicly-revealed source for the charges against the 23-year-old come from the confused and inconsistent accounts of former hacker Adrian Lamo, who claims Manning contacted him out of the blue and confessed that he had leaked to Wikileaks not merely approximately a quarter of a million diplomatic tables, but detailed “war logs” from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the now-infamous video of the killing of Iraqi civilians by US military personnel in an Apache helicopter in Baghdad.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombes, has discussed the charges here, noting that the new charges are at the discretion of Manning’s own commander, and may not form part of Manning’s court-martial unless investigators agree.
The new charge sheet for Manning is here. The most remarkable of the new charges — and the one that carries the death penalty — is that of “aiding the enemy” under article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Coombes discusses the “elements” of this charge, noting that the the”enemy” is defined as”(not only) organized opposing forces in time of war, (but also any other hostile body that our forces may be opposing) (such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades) (and includes civilians as well as members of military organizations). (“Enemy” is not restricted to the enemy government or its armed forces. All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and the citizens of the other.)”
At no time has any claim been made, even by those calling for the murder of Julian Assange, that the WikiLeaks material was leaked to foreign powers, or was leaked for financial reward. Manning is alleged to have provided the material because he regarded the behaviour of the US Government as unconscionable. The “aiding the enemy” charge therefore clearly conceives of WikiLeaks as an “enemy” of the United States.
As WikiLeaks itself noted this morning, that should deeply worry all media organisations, which are now only a semantic debate over whether WikiLeaks is a media outlet away from potentially becoming an official enemy of the United States as well. WikiLeaks itself is releasing the diplomatic cables in concert with a now large number of media outlets around the world, having moved on from The Guardian and The New York Times when both outlets turned on Assange. Conceivably, therefore, the charge against Manning incorporates not merely WikiLeaks as an “enemy”, but all outlets that have published the material (in many cases, before WikiLeaks itself published them).
Treating media outlets as enemies is by no means unprecedented for the United States. The Bush Administration twice bombed facilities of the Al Jazeera network, which it had strongly criticised, during the Afghan and Iraq wars, and President Bush raised bombing the network’s headquarters in Doha with Tony Blair in 2004 (overnight Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavished praise on the network). The HB Gary saga has revealed the hand of US Department of Justice – the lead agency in the effort to assemble a case against Wikileaks — in the preparation of an attack on Wikileaks for the Bank of America.
Even the stridently anti-WikiLeaks Wired.com has noted a further consequence of this charge – to provide hitherto-lacking substance to the claim made by Assange’s legal team in his extradition trial that he potentially faces death at the hands of the United States government. Assange and WikiLeaks now have a formal status as an “enemy” of the US, and while it is Manning, and not Assange, who faces the death penalty, it provides unexpected evidence of the scale of the potential threat to Assange should he fall into US hands.
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The charge also provides further evidence for the initially outlandish-sounding theory that Manning was being subjected to extraordinary pressure in order to force some sort of admission regarding WikiLeaks, with the possibility of the death penalty now being brought to bear on the 23 year old. US defence officials have never formally acknowledged leaked claims that military investigators had given up trying to find a link between Manning and Assange that would enable the latter to be charged under the Espionage Act. Assange has consistently denied any knowledge of Manning until his arrest, given WikiLeaks’s anonymous leaking system.