The Bradley Manning verdict, two views

The Bradley Manning verdict is in. A military judge found Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, but guilty of all 19 other counts, including five espionage charges. Presumably, he will face a long jail term as a result.

Two of my go-to sources on matters relating to secrecy in the national security context take different views of the Manning verdict. Gabriel Schoenfeld, author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, applauds the ruling. He writes:

The government’s theory. . .that the enemy — al-Qaeda — was aided because, like the rest of the world, it was able to read the classified documents Manning provided to Wikileaks, seemed to me be an unwise stretch of the law with a chain of undesirable implications.

For better and for worse, classified information leaks out of Washington’s national-security machinery on a daily basis. Our newspapers are full of stories based upon leaks and much of what we know about American foreign policy is the result of these leaks.

While some leaks — of necessary secrets — can endanger the country, many other leaks — of unnecessary secrets, of which our government has a wealth — have few adverse consequences at all. If routine leaking is turned into a capital crime — which is the direction suggested by the aiding the enemy charge — our understanding of what our government is doing around the world would have suffered a significant blow.

The judge’s decision today strikes me as an appropriate balance that, if matched by an appropriate sentence, will meet the twin demands of deterrence and justice.

But John Yoo believes that the military judge “seriously erred in acquitting Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy.” The statute, he notes, applies to those who knowingly give intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with, the enemy — either directly or indirectly. Yoo argues that Manning knowingly gave intelligence to al Qaeda indirectly:

Manning communicated regularly with Wikileaks’s founder and would have known about the group’s anarchic, anti-U.S. mission. He also would have known that posting anything on the Internet would make it available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and world-wide.

His actions knowingly placed the lives of American soldiers, agents, and allies at grave risk. In the world of instant, world-wide communications and non-state terrorist groups, Manning committed the crime of aiding the enemy, and he is lucky to escape the death penalty.

I think I agree with Yoo. Schoenfeld is right that routine leaking should not be a capital offense. However, Manning went well beyond routine leaking.

The main thing, though, is that Manning receive a very long sentence.


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