By Ben Wizner, Director, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:04am
Yesterday the military judge overseeing the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of giving government documents to WikiLeaks, heard a defense motion to dismiss the charge of “Aiding the Enemy.” (She is expected to rule on the motion today.) The charge, which is akin to treason and is punishable by death, is separate from the main accusation against Manning — that he leaked sensitive documents to people unauthorized to receive them. The government’s inclusion of this charge raises enormous problems, and a conviction of Manning in these circumstances would be unconstitutional.
The key to the government’s case is this simple claim: that posting intelligence information to the internet aids Al Qaeda because Al Qaeda has access to the internet.
The implications of the government’s argument are breathtaking. To understand why, it helps to recall the experience of another soldier. In December of 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held a town-hall style meeting for troops who were preparing to deploy to Iraq. Following his remarks, Rumsfeld was confronted by an Army specialist who complained about the inadequacy of the combat equipment provided by the military.
“Our vehicles are not armored,” said Specialist Thomas Wilson, an airplane mechanic with the Tennessee Army National Guard. “We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up . . . to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper vehicles to carry with us north.”
The soldier’s question — and Rumsfeld’s now infamous response that “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have” — were front-page news around the world. And while war cheerleaders like Rush Limbaugh accused Specialist Wilson of “near insubordination” for embarrassing the defense secretary in a public forum, there was no suggestion in serious quarters that he face punishment — much less prosecution — for his words.
Yet the government’s decision to prosecute Manning for “Aiding the Enemy” threatens to make public comments like Wilson’s grounds for criminal prosecution. The government does not contend that Manning gave any information to Al Qaeda, or even that he intended that Al Qaeda receive it. Rather, it claims that Manning “indirectly” aided Al Qaeda by causing intelligence information to be posted on WikiLeaks’ website, knowing that Al Qaeda has access to the internet. Specifically, the government contends that Manning violated Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides that “any person who . . . gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.”
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