Thursday, August 22, 2013

Manning pays price of embarrassing US

Compared with the vastly shorter sentences dealt to other leakers, and taking into account that he might not be released until 10 years after the documents he leaked are declassified, WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning is being harshly punished - 35 years in a military prison.

In 1985, the first government worker to be jailed for leaking to the media was a former US Navy intelligence officer who gave classified satellite photographs to Jane's Defence Weekly. He went down for just two years.

More recently, under the Obama administration, an FBI linguist went away for 20 months; a National Security Agency employee got off with a year on probation and community service; and a guy from the CIA went away for 30 months.

Given that Washington has failed to substantiate its claims of gross damage to the US, its employees and their sources, the Manning sentence seems way out of line with just 10 years for the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal - who was released after serving just 6½ years.

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Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's speech and technology project, told reporters: ''When a soldier who shared information with the press and the public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system.''

It was hard not to conclude after military judge Colonel Denise Lind took just two minutes to dispatch Manning on Wednesday that the 25-year-old was being so severely punished not so much because he damaged the US government as because he embarrassed it.

Sitting on a mountain of classified material, he figured leaking it would spark a useful public debate about Iraq and Afghanistan.

He showed the world the callousness of a US helicopter crew killing civilians - and the callousness of Washington in denying the existence of the video to the Reuters news agency, which employed two of the dead.

Manning revealed the abuse of detainees by Iraqi officers - as US minders turned a blind eye. And he showed that civilian deaths in the Iraq war probably were much higher than official estimates.

After a brief meeting with Manning and some of his family after the decision, defence lawyer David Coombs told The Guardian: ''The only person that wasn't emotional was Brad - he looked to us and said, 'It's OK, I'm going to move forward and I'm going to be all right.'''

Next week, there will be a plea to the White House for a pardon. The lawyer read from a personal message to Barack Obama that will be included: ''If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.''

Manning has Buckley's chance if he thinks he can turn Obama, who ran for office as a champion of whistleblowers but now presides over an aggressive campaign to lock them up.


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