Setting a 'dangerous precedent' for the future of whistleblowers in the United States, Tuesday's ruling in which Pfc. Bradley Manning was found guilty of over 20 counts sheds new light on the current predicaments of at-large truth-tellers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.
As critics react to the hearing, many agree that the guilty conviction handed down by Judge Col. Denise Lind—chiefly the five counts of espionage— are further proof that the United States, under the direction of President Barack Obama, is 'emboldened' to proceed in their merciless pursuit and prosecution of whistleblowers.
Following the hearing, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represent WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, issued a statement in which they declared, “Manning’s treatment, prosecution, and sentencing have one purpose: to silence potential whistleblowers and the media as well."
When asked by Democracy Now's Amy Goodman what the Manning verdict means for him, Assange answered that "the Department of Justice has admitted that the investigation against me and WikiLeaks proceeds in relation to the Manning verdict." He added that his attorneys believe that the US DOJ has already issued a sealed indictment against him.
Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been granted political asylum.
Reporting on the implications of the Assange trial and the WikiLeaks case, reporter Billy Kenber wrote in a Washington Post piece published Tuesday that the espionage charges make it "increasingly likely that the United States will prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a co-conspirator."
Military prosecutors in the court-martial portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents. And they insisted that the anti-secrecy group cannot be considered a media organization that published the leaked information in the public interest.
Defense attorneys denied “the claim that Bradley Manning was acting under the direction of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, but the government kept trying to bring that up, trying to essentially say that Julian was a co-conspirator,” said Michael Ratner, Assange’s American attorney and the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. “That’s a very bad sign about what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.”
A grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks is ongoing, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. But it is unclear whether any sealed indictments exist or whether Assange has been charged.
“Either there [are] charges already, which I think is very possible, or they now have this and they can say they have one part of the conspiracy,” Ratner said.
In a statement released following the verdict, Assange writes, "This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism."
Noting that President Obama has initiated more espionage proceedings against whistleblowers and publishers than all previous presidents combined, he adds, "The Obama administration has been chipping away [at] democratic freedoms in the United States. With today’s verdict, Obama has hacked off much more. The administration is intent on deterring and silencing whistleblowers, intent on weakening freedom of the press."
Independent reporter Kevin Gosztola, who had covered the trial daily, wrote following the hearing that the rulings had dangerous implications for other whistleblowers:
The key result from the Manning verdict may be that the Justice Department and other parts of the US government are emboldened more than ever to bring leak prosecutions and charge individuals, including national security whistleblowers who lack protections under laws, with Espionage Act offenses, even when there is no evidence of acts of espionage.
As if to underline his point, House Intelligence Committee members Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) issued this threatening statement in reaction to the hearing: "Justice has been served...There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security."
As the verdict was read, supporters of at-large NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden also responded with concern.
In an interview Tuesday with Russia's state television station, Lonnie Snowden—father of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, advocated for his son to stay in Russia and to stay "out of the reach of those who would wish him harm."
Reuters reports that Lonnie Snowden said he did not think his son would get a fair trial in the United States. "I hope that he will return home and appear in court ... But I don't expect that ... a court would be fair. We cannot guarantee a fair court."