Human Rights Watch is glad that Chelsea Manning is free. A statement from the group’s General Counsel’s office notes that Manning’s “absurdly disproportionate” 35-year sentence for passing classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, commuted by Barack Obama on his last day in office, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, which they warn still stands ready for use against the next potential whistleblower.
The Act was intended to punish those who leak secrets to foreign governments, but the US government is increasingly keen to turn it against those who give information to journalists. Critically, those prosecuted under the Act can’t argue they intended to serve the public interest, and prosecutors don’t have to prove that national security was harmed at all, much less that it outweighed the public’s right to know.
So as Manning walks free after seven years and 120 days (or “just seven years,” as USA Today had it—5/17/17), some of it in solitary confinement, it’s worth remembering that corporate media did virtually nothing in support of her clemency, even though her revelations were the basis for countless media reports—including revelations about a 2007 US military attack in Iraq that killed two Reuters journalists.
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As FAIR analyst Adam Johnson (1/18/17) noted, it’s a strange day when the US president is to the left of the country’s editorial pages. But even though her conviction posed and poses a chilling threat to all media sources who seek to expose government wrongdoing, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran no editorials supporting Manning’s release.
The Washington Post ran three op-eds calling for leniency for Roman Polanski vs. none for Manning, but maybe the best reflection of things: The US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s review into the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures testified that no instances were ever found of any casualties resulting from the releases. But on her sentence commutation, the outraged tweet “How many people died because of Manning’s leak?” came from none other than the New York Times‘ Judith Miller, whose front-page promotions of bad intelligence paved the way for the Iraq War.