Bradley Manning faces life in prison for leaking documents to WikiLeaks.
IN TWO WIDELY DISPARATE new developments, the WikiLeaks case is back in the news today.
In an advance story on the scheduled closing arguments in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning – a case that has profound implications for press freedom in America – the Washington Post publishes an in-depth profile of the presiding judge in the case, Denise Lind, an Army colonel.
And at the other end of the earth, The New York Times reports that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, plans to run for the Australian Senate.
In the story buried in the Asia/Pacific section of the online edition (it did not appear at all in print in the National Edition that I received), Matt Siegel reports:
“In a telephone interview, Mr. Assange said he had every confidence in his ability to run a campaign from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.”
WIDELY WATCHED throughout the world, to the detriment of the U.S., the Manning trial stems from allegations that he leaked thousands of secret government documents to Assange, the founder of the whistleblower web site.
The online version of the Washington Post’s story about the Manning trial.
The story has been grossly underreported in the U.S. media.
The administration of President Barack Obama has been aggressively pursuing those it deems to have leaked national security information to the press.
Obama has brought more prosecutions than all of the other presidents combined.
Many have seen this as an assault on free expression and the news media’s important role as watchdog on government excess or wrongdoing.
The Manning and WikiLeaks cases burst onto the American consciousness in April 2010 with the publication of a U.S. government video taken from the cockpit of an Army attack helicopter as eight innocents in Baghdad – including two Reuters news agency staffers – were brutally murdered in the street.
Watch the 29-minute video here.
Caution: It contains graphic scenes that may be highly disturbing to some viewers.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the audio track: the commander repeatedly requests in crude language permission to slaughter those in his gun sights, seemingly taking delight in their imminent demise, even though what he said was a “weapon” turned out to be the camera gear of a Reuters photographer.
WikiLeaks then, in coordination with The News York Times (and the Guardian in the U.K. and Der Spiegel in Germany) published hundreds of thousands of classified documents concerning the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s coup de grace, however, was release of a quarter-million secret diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies throughout the world to the State Department in Washington, D.C.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a ‘prisoner’ in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
WHETHER ANY OF THESE REVELATIONS have done real harm to national security is unknown, of course: it’s classified.
What we do know is that senior government officials – including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – were acutely embarrassed.
But embarrassment is no reason for withholding vital information from the public – or persecuting those who provide it.
In fact we may never know just how chilling the Manning prosecution (he was widely reported to be tortured during his first year in custody) and the pursuit of Assange have been.
It is unknowable how many with vital public information have been dissuaded from providing it because of fear of prosecution.
And therefore it is unknowable what we don’t know that we should know.
The closing arguments in the Manning trial begin today in Ft. Meade, Md. The judge’s decision in the case has been widely predicted since her ruling last week that the most serious charge – aiding and abetting the enemy – would be allowed to stand.
If he is convicted, Manning, 26, faces the prospect of spending his entire life behind bars.
This is a sorry chapter in U.S. history. Most Americans remain blissfully unaware, but the entire world is watching. We should not come up short.
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