And looming above those breathtaking role reversals is the media’s disgraceful abandonment of the boldest news source of his generation, Pvt. Bradley Manning, a soldier who in 2010 defied secrecy restrictions to feed the most influential media in the world with leaks they gratefully published, which exposed corruption and duplicity, identified torturers, energized the Arab spring, and embarrassed officialdom worldwide.
The ferocity of the Obama administration’s attack on Manning and on WikiLeaks, the online anti-secrecy organization that brokered his leaks to the media, has been withering. Manning spent the better part of a year in solitary confinement, undergoing maltreatment plainly intended to get him to finger WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as not just a conduit, but a co-conspirator.
Manning, now 25, is before a court martial in Maryland. After 1,000 days behind bars, he recently pleaded guilty to charges that could leave him there for another 20 years. So the trial could end now, with Manning facing two decades in prison. Instead, the government is pushing ahead with a charge of “aiding the enemy,” technically punishable by death, likely to bring him life without parole.
According to Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor who’s assisting his defense, this is the first time in 150 years that anybody has been charged with aiding the enemy for leaking information to the press for general publication. Benkler says that makes secrecy breaches — an indispensable routine of journalism in the national security realm — a capital offense, if they annoy the wrong people.
The government hasn’t said what harm, if any, Manning’s leaks did to this country. The military court has indicated it doesn’t care.