Bradley Manning’s conviction by a military court for his leaks of military documents should be a cautionary tale for all those who fashion themselves guardians of righteousness dedicated to protecting us from ourselves.
The baby-faced Army private may have escaped the charge of aiding the enemy, which ultimately might have ended his life. But he faces years of isolation in prison, which amounts to the same thing although at a much slower pace. This is not a bad kid, merely a dumb one convinced that he was a patriot who was heroically sacrificing his well-being for his fellow Americans by exposing their government’s secrets.
He had help in that misguided interpretation of right and wrong from a sleazy figure named Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder may be an assaulter of women and a coward who has helped another, Edward Snowden, pervert the concept of liberty while hiding from the bar of justice from this country and Sweden. Assange is an information anarchist, and WikiLeaks is a dangerous collection of misanthropic cult followers.
The Manning decision — handed down by a military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind — brings a possible sentence of up to 136 years in prison. The betting is that those considering similar acts in the future will think twice.
In the meantime, the focus will return to the role Assange played in Manning’s massive distribution of classified information, and whether the United States, with its long arm, will reach out to prosecute him under the Espionage Act. Again, the odds seem good that it will.
There is a difference between legitimate whistle-blowing and the unauthorized leak of highly classified documents. As Mark Twain said in another context, it is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. One frequently uncovers malfeasance while the other is a direct violation of the law and a threat to national security. The Justice Department, guided by the White House, has come dangerously close to stepping over the barrier of constitutionally protected press freedom in prosecuting these cases.