Looming Decision on Manning's 'Aiding the Enemy' Charge Threatens to 'Hammer Down' Future Whistleblowing
'Aiding the enemy' charge shows danger of falling into 'slippery slope' of silencing press, defense argues
Military Judge Col. Denise Lind will decide whether or not to drop charges of "aiding the enemy" from army whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning's case on Thursday.
The country is in danger of falling into a “very slippery slope of basically punishing people for getting information out to press” if Lind does not drop the charge before the sentence ruling on Thursday, Manning's lawyer David Coombs said during oral arguments on Monday.
Coombs said government prosecutors have ultimately failed to present evidence showing Manning had "actual knowledge" that an "enemy" would see the military documents Manning had leaked to WikiLeaks.
To convict Manning of "aiding the enemy," which would result in a life sentence, would basically amount to "putting a hammer down on any whistleblower or anybody who wants to put information out,” Coombs said.
Such a ruling would set an “extremely bad precedent,” he warned.
Lind, who is presiding over the court martial at Fort Meade, said she would also rule on Thursday on the defense's motions to drop charges that Manning “exceeded authorized access” on his computer, stole, and knowingly converted databases containing United States government information—all of which could amount to Manning's harshest sentence, next to "aiding the enemy" which carries life in prison.
Following Lind's expected decision on Thursday, prosecutors will be allowed to call three witnesses for a rebuttal case.
They will be expected to "attempt to undermine testimony defending WikiLeaks as a legitimate news outlet and casting Manning as driven by the public good," writes Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld, who has been following the case closely.
Key witness Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler told the court on Wednesday that WikiLeaks is "a legitimate journalistic organization" rather than an organization which aids "terrorist organizations," as has been portrayed by the U.S. government. He stated:
[I]f handing materials over to an organization that can be read by anyone with an internet connection, means that you are handing [it] over to the enemy—that essentially means that any leak to a media organization that can be read by any enemy anywhere in the world, becomes automatically aiding the enemy.
Benkler's testimony supported the defense's request to drop a number of charges against the whistleblower including 'aiding the enemy.'
According to reporter Alexa O’Brien, closing arguments will follow the prosecution’s rebuttal case, after which Judge Lind will deliberate and announce her findings.
If Manning is convicted, a "sentencing case" will begin immediately.
"During the sentencing case, both defense and the prosecution will present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments about appropriate punishment," reports O’Brien.