Army Pfc. Bradley Manning admitted in court last month that he fed the website Wikileaks a huge trove of classified military files.The document dump included thousands of files, some of which made the U.S. look pretty bad — including videos of airstrikes in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed innocent people, The New York Times has reported.
The federal government filed 22 criminal charges against the former intelligence analyst, 10 of which he pleaded guilty to. Manning still has to face trial on the most serious charge against him, First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams and law professor Yochai Benkler write in a Times op-ed Wednesday.
Manning is accused of “aiding the enemy,” which could theoretically get him the death penalty. (The feds are seeking life in prison in Manning’s case.)
Still, if the government prevails on this case, it could muzzle would-be whistleblowers, Abrams and Benkler argue. From their op-ed, which is called “Death to Whistle-blowers?”
“If successful, the prosecution will establish a chilling precedent: national security leaks may subject the leakers to a capital prosecution or at least life imprisonment.”
“And what could be more destructive to an informed citizenry than the threat of the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole for whistle-blowers?”
The case against a “25-year-old low-level intelligence geek” could be complicated by the fact that he gave the classified files to the “Internet insurgents” at Wikileaks rather than a traditional news organisation, The Times’ executive editor Bill Keller writes in his own op-ed.
“[I]t’s possible the court’s judgment of the leaker might be coloured by the fact that he delivered the goods to a group of former hackers with an outlaw sensibility and an antipathy toward American interests,” Keller wrote this week. “Will that cost Manning at sentencing time?”
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