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Bradley Manning Trial Begins: A 'Danger Zone' for Civil Liberties

Common Dreams staff


The trial of 25-year-old Pfc. Bradley Manning began Monday morning, a case that could "set an ominous precedent that will chill freedom of speech and turn the internet into a danger zone," as Ed Pilkington from the Guardian reports.

Manning, the private who leaked a trove of documents to the transparency website WikiLeaks, represents "the latest and most high-profile in a series of leak prosecutions brought by the Obama administration."

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who taught constitutional law to President Barack Obama told the Guardian that the trial, and Manning's most serious charge of 'aiding the enemy,' could hold a dangerous precedent:

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.

"The case is a sledgehammer," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Huffington Post last week. "It is there to try and terrorize anyone else into being a force for the media, by trying to terrorize this young man."

Several reporters are live tweeting from the scene:

Manning's trial comes after years of harsh treatment within a military prison and a lengthy pretrial hearing.

Manning was arrested on May 29, 2010 at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq. His treatment in detention has amounted to abuse, his lawyers and supporters have argued, including having been kept in solitary confinement and forced to strip naked at night.

Describing why he leaked the shocking military documents, Manning said in a pre-trial statement that he "had information that needed to be shared with the world."

"I wrote that the information would help document the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Manning.

As law professor Marjorie Cohn, describing The Uncommon Courage of Bradley Manning, wrote:

When he was 22 years old, Pfc. Bradley Manning gave classified documents to WikiLeaks. They included the “Collateral Murder” video, which depicts U.S. forces in an Apache helicopter killing 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounding two children.

“I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bradley told the military tribunal during his guilty plea proceeding. “It might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counter terrorism while ignoring the human situation of the people we engaged with every day.”

Tribe added that the trial could have "far-reaching consequences for chilling freedom of speech and rendering the internet a hazardous environment, well beyond any demonstrable national security interest."

Firedoglake reporter Kevin Gosztola, who is at Ft. Meade covering the trial; and attorney Chase Madar, author of "The Passion of Bradley Manning," spoke with Democracy Now! before the trial Monday morning:


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