As Bradley Manning Trial Winds Down, Government Struggles To Defend Serious Charges

Amnesty International posted a message on its website asking the U.S. government to immediately drop the most serious charge facing the 25-year-old.
By @katierucke |
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    (Photo/Sgt. Shawn Sales via Flickr)

    (Photo/Sgt. Shawn Sales via Flickr)

    As the trial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning began to wind down on Friday, the international human rights organization Amnesty International posted a message on its website asking the U.S. government to immediately drop the most serious charge facing the 25-year-old: aiding the enemy.

    Widney Brown, the senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International, said that since the evidence has now been presented by both sides in the case, “it’s abundantly clear that the charge of ‘aiding the enemy’ has no basis.”

    “The government’s case for ‘aiding the enemy’ is ludicrous, and that’s not surprising,” Brown said. “What’s surprising is that the prosecutors in this case, who have a duty to act in the interest of justice, have pushed a theory that making information available on the Internet — whether through WikiLeaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of The New York Times — can amount to ‘aiding the enemy.’”

    As Mint Press News previously reported, the military whistleblower is being tried in military court for releasing more than 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and video clips he accessed while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.

    One of the most significant documents Manning released included a video referred to as “Collateral Murder.” The infamous video shows two U.S. Apache helicopters shooting at a group of unarmed adults and children in Iraq in 2007. Two Reuters journalists, Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh, were killed along with about a dozen other people. Initial reports from the U.S. military said the adults who died were insurgents in a battle with U.S. forces.

    However, once the video was released along with transcripts, it became evident there was no battle. The journalists’ camera bags were misidentified by the soldiers as AK-47 assault rifles.

    Manning said he released the video because he was concerned about the “lack of concern for human life” and lack of “concern for injured children at the scene.”

    Of the 22 charges Manning faces, aiding the enemy is the most serious. If found guilty, Manning could face life in prison without parole. But in order for the government to be successful in proving Manning the charge, it would have to prove he knowingly gave potentially damaging intelligence information to an enemy of the United States.

    In February, Manning took responsibility for releasing the documents to WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, for which he will serve about 20 years in prison.

    In a statement, Manning said he decided to release the documents because he “believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”


    Lack of evidence

    On its website, Amnesty International says that the prosecution has struggled to prove Manning had “a general evil intent” in releasing the documents. The organization reports that even the government’s own witnesses have testified that “they found no evidence that Manning was sympathetic towards al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that he had never expressed disloyalty to his country, that they had no evidence that he had ties to any government other than his own, and that they had no reason to believe he had ever collected money for the information he disclosed.”

    Brown says that in addition to dropping the aiding the enemy charge, “The prosecution should also take a long, hard look at its entire case and move to drop all other charges that aren’t supported by the evidence presented.”

    Amnesty International said that the prosecutors seemed to be putting WikiLeaks on trial at times instead of Manning, weakening the government’s case.

    Amnesty International said the prosecution also seemed to have difficulty proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning was guilty of some of the lesser charges, such as unauthorized use of certain military intelligence software programs. Manning was charged with illegally adding software to his computer, but a special agent testified last week that everyone in Manning’s intelligence unit had used that software.

    Over the weekend, military judge Col. Denise Lind agreed to hear arguments on Monday afternoon from Manning’s lawyers and the prosecution on whether Manning should be acquitted of seven charges, including aiding the enemy. The defense argues that Manning should not be charged with the crimes due to a lack of evidence.


    Internet posts = aiding the enemy?

    Since the beginning of Manning’s trial, many advocates of government transparency have expressed concern that if Manning is found guilty of aiding the enemy, it will set a dangerous precedent for future whistleblowers and free speech in general.

    “Charging any individual with the extremely grave offense of ‘aiding the enemy’ on the basis of nothing beyond the fact that the individual posted leaked information on the web and thereby ‘knowingly gave intelligence information’ to whoever could gain access to it there, does indeed seem to break dangerous new ground,” Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard University and a constitutional law expert, said.

    Free speech advocates are also concerned that Manning’s defense team was barred from introducing information suggesting that little or no damage was caused by the leak. As Mint Press News previously reported, Manning was also reportedly not allowed to explain why he decided to leak the information as part of his defense. Instead, he will be allowed to explain himself only when he is sentenced.

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