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Bradley Manning Is Guilty, But of What?


Bradley Manning will soon find out if he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Yesterday he was convicted of espionage, theft, and computer fraud, charges carrying a potential sentence of up to 136 years. A military judge cleared him of the most serious crime, aiding the enemy. The sentencing phase of his trial 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]

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  • tarentius

    There is no “legal gray area” when it comes to the crimes that Manning committed. They are clear and unequivocal. Manning, as part of being granted access to classified material, signed an acknowledgement of his responsibilities and was reminded of the pertinent provisions of the US Code. Further, as a soldier in the United States Army, Manning betrayed his comrades who were fighting, bleeding and dying in a war against a vicious , barbarous enemy. Now, Mr. Meade says he is sorry for a “naïve, young hothead.” A “naïve young hothead” doesn’t, over a long period of time, systematically harvest reams of classified information and knowingly turn them over to a foreign head of an anti-US organization.
    Shame on you Mr. Mead for your refusal to recognize that individuals are responsible for their actions and someone who knowingly betrays his country and his comrades is not worthy of sympathy. That’s the real world, not your world of academia and diplomacy. There is no place for bleeding hearts in this world.

    • Fred

      I’m with you. That SOB and that other traitorous SOB Snowden should have their nuts cut off and force fed to them.

    • Philopoemen

      Ah, jingoism at its finest. Thank you for the satire.

      … it was satire, right?

      • Fred

        Considering what I recommended is not an impossibility for some of the Iraqis and Afghans whose cooperation with us he exposed and that Snowden’s actions could cost lives in a preventable terrorist attack, no Phil, that was not satire.

  • Corlyss

    He’s guilty of stupidity, and he should pay the price, just like dim-witted criminals who drop their drivers’ licenses at a robbery or murder. I believe the “whistle-blower” nonsense was his attorney’s way of making lemonade out of his client’s large cache of lemons.

  • feastfirst

    Not to pile on, but… I’ve signed an NDA, I didn’t have to, I did it voluntarily with the explicit understanding that if I violated it I would go to jail. There is NO gray area here, unless you hire a lawyer and pursue whistleblower protection. Stooge is the BEST thing you can say about this fragile, deficient, almost human being.

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