Bradley Manning Is Guilty, But of What?
began today and could take some time.The 25 year-old Manning seems to us to be a naive young hothead who got himself into much deeper trouble than he understood. We have some compassion for him and his family, and we think it’s for the best that he was acquitted of the aiding the enemy charge. Unfortunately he really did stir up more trouble than he knew or expected, and the US government has to show it takes breaches of diplomatic secrets very seriously. That means Manning will have to serve some real time, but if his sentence is excessive, we would favor clemency at some point.Since 9/11, the US has been operating in legal gray areas. Whether the issue is Guantanamo, NSA surveillance of American citizens, or the use of drones to kill foreign militants in Pakistan or Yemen, we’ve had to deal with a lot of issues that existing law doesn’t cover adequately. The Bush administration, ironically, had a better excuse for freelancing than the Obama administration has now. In the early years after 9/11, the situation was still so new, and the most important thing was to act quickly and assertively to come to grips with a threat of uncertain scale. Today we have a much better idea about what the terror threat to the homeland does and does not mean, what kind of tools are needed to fight it, and what kind of tradeoffs US citizens can be expected to make. It’s clearly time for Congress draft some laws to give the Executive Branch better guidance—and, yes, better oversight—in managing these threats.This will involve sitting down with other countries to think about international treaties and guidelines to cover things like surveillance and enemy combatants fighting for terror organizations. The process will be a long one, and neither the US nor its chief allies can avoid the need to act from time to time, even as we act to change the law.It’s abundantly clear that our failure to develop an appropriate legal and oversight process for necessary acts of self defense has become a serious liability, undermining the legitimacy of policies and practices that, despite the occasional, worrying abuses, still have an important role to play in ensuring the security of peaceful people across the world.[Image of Bradley Manning billboard in Washington, DC, courtesy Wikimedia]