On Monday Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, begins his military trial three years after being arrested for his involvement in the biggest leak of classified information in US history. Manning faces 22 charges, including violating the Espionage Act and a charge of aiding the enemy, which could bring a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Manning has already admitted to leaking over 700,000 government and military documents to the website Wikileaks and has already offered to plead guilty to 10 charges related to tampering with classified information which could put him behind bars for 20 years. But the prosecution is intent on pursuing the two biggest charges.
In his opening statement, Capt. Joe Morrow said, “this is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the internet into the hands of the enemy.” Manning, meanwhile, when releasing the classified cables wrote that he hoped to spark “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”
While the letter of the law might find indeed Manning guilty of treason and of aiding the enemy, the decision of the court carries symbolic weight over the future of secrecy and transparency in military and foreign policy affairs. The Wikileaks cables have indeed sparked a public conversation, and it’s understandable why so many people consider Manning a hero.
How should the court rule? Do the ends justify the means? Are supporters of transparency and civil liberties naive about how much Manning’s actions endangered our security? What’s an appropriate punishment?
Jeffrey Addicott, professor of law at St. Mary's School of Law in San Antonio, where he is also the director of the Center for Terrorism Law
Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice