Bradley Manning Charged with ‘Aiding the Enemy’, A Death Penalty Offence

The U.S. government have charged Bradley Manning with “Aiding the Enemy”.  A charge that is punishable by death. But in what could be an attempt to soften possible public outcry, the prosecutor have notified the defense that they won’t be seeking the death penalty. Slashdot quoted the charges being laid against Bradley Manning as:

…the Uniform Code of Military Justice, include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it will be accessed by the enemy, that US officials have asserted could put soldiers and civilians at risk.

Note the bolded phrase knowing…”. Based on alleged chat log of Bradley Manning, there is no indication that he intended to help any enemy. He allegedly leaked a video that shows civilians being shot. Al Jazeera provided the whole video with commentary from Julian Assange and a military analyst. Here’s a quick recap of the video’s content. Warning: Some might find the event disturbing. The early part of the video shows Reuters reporter with a camera getting shot. The pilot thought that the camera was an RPG. There was a wounded person getting up with no weapon on hand. The pilot could be heard encouraging the wounded person to just pick up a weapon, seemingly eager to shoot at the person. Later part of the video shows the wounded being moved into a van. And the pilot eagerly asking to engage. The van turns out to have children in them. After being informed by the ground troops that childrens were shot, the pilot seems unrepentant and said that’s what you get for bringing children to the battle. Next day, the same helicopter saw an armed person going into a building. They then asked for permission to engage. The video also shows a civilian going into the building, and a pedestrian walking by. But they went ahead and blew up the building and most likely the pedestrian passing by.

Some might argue that the pilot needs to be given the benefit of the doubt, considering the tense situation they were in. However, the video does highlight a lax rule of engagement. There does not seem to be consideration for civilian casualty in an urban area.

There is still another video from Afghanistan supposedly showing civilian casualties. Wikileaks have not released that video yet. It took Wikileaks three months to decrypt the Iraq video, which the chat log said was never really encrypted. But the Afghanistan video was encrypted with AES-256 and a 14 characters password. It is said to show awful scene, albeit not as damning as the Iraq’s video.

There were no indication that Bradley Manning wanted to aid the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Instead, the chat log that is being attributed to Bradley shows a pained man whose conscience is giving him grief. The person in the chat expressed his intent as:

>…well, it was forwarded to WL
>and god knows what happens now
>hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms
>if not… than we’re doomed
>as a species
>i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens
>the reaction to the video gave me immense hope… CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed… Twitter exploded…
>people who saw, knew there was something wrong
>i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public

And on how he became disillusioned: When he saw Iraqi political critics of their Prime Minister being arrested. He was excited to report his findings to a U.S. officer that the detainees were innocent. But the officer asked him to shut up and find ways to help Iraqi police find more detainees.

i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…

When Lamo, the hacker, says he is a spy. He responded:

i couldn’t be a spy…spies dont post things up for the world to see

Wired magazine published the original log attributing it to Bradley Manning.  The hacker that Bradley Manning confide in had worked with Wired magazine before.

It is not clear what enemy Bradley was allegedly aiding. But some people have speculated that U.S. might be planning to label Wikileaks’ Julian Assange as an Enemy. This will clearly be against the intent of a law meant to punish spies. 

David House, a researcher at MIT is comparing Obama’s administration treatment of Bradley Manning to Nixon’s treatment of Daniel Ellsberg. According to House:

the “aiding the enemy” charge was similar to Richard Nixon’s heavy-handed treatment of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Nixon called Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America” and said he was “providing aid and comfort to the enemy”.

“Today we see the Obama administration continuing the legacy Nixon started by declaring whistleblowers as enemies of the state. It is a sad and dangerous day for transparency advocates everywhere,” House said.

Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers back in 1971. It revealed government’s cover-up in the Vietnam war. It is now considered as the leak that stopped the Vietnam war. The leak also lead Nixon to create the covert White House Unit called the “Plumbers”. They did various break-ins to find Ellsberg files, including Ellsberg’s Psychiatrist office. Nixon was trying to find something he could use to destroy Ellsberg. The “Plumber” went on to commit other crimes including the infamous Watergate break-in that ended Nixon’s presidency.

The Obama’s administration all out campaign against Wikileaks and Bradley Manning is evoking memory of Nixon’s desperate attempt to stop Ellsberg’s leak back then. At the height of the leak, Nixon was quoted as saying:

“We’ve got a countergovernment here and we’ve got to fight it. I don’t give a damn how it’s done. Do whatever has to be done to stop those leaks.… I don’t want to be told why it can’t be done.”

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