Army Wikileaker Manning Faces Possible Death Penalty With New Charges

At a jail in Quantico, Virginia, Wikileaks confidante Bradley Manning received bad news sometime in the last couple weeks, according to the U.S. Army.  They have filed 22 new charges against the 23-year-old former U.S. Army Private.

I. A Capital Offense

Most notably, Mr. Manning has been charged with aiding the enemy.  According to the Army’s Military Law manual (see link) this charge can be applied against someone who directly or indirectly, gives information to “the enemy”.  

It is punishable by death or “other punishment”, with the decision resting with the court martial committee.

In this case, “the enemy” could be hostile terrorist groups like the Taliban or Al Qaeda that may have benefited from the intelligence info revealed in the published Army field memos.  According to reports, the Taliban officials are aware of the leaks and expressed appreciation to Wikileaks and its sources for their publication, saying they will find them useful.

Or the “enemy” in this charge could also be Wikileaks itself.  Approximately 97 percent of the site’s currently published leaked documents pertain to the U.S.  And site leader Julian Assange called on hackers to be anarchists and resist government influence in a seminal 90s book on the hacking scene.

The military manual states that the “enemy” can be a “hostile body” and “civilians as well as members of military organizations”.

The Department of Defense was careful to point in a Twitter post out that one of the charges was a capital offense.  It is unlikely, however, that the Army will seek the death penalty, not so much because of Manning’s age, but out of the basic fact that the U.S. seldom executes its spies.  
In the modern era the only people to be executed for espionage during the modern era were the Rosenbergs, who met the death penalty in the 1950s at the height of anti-communist fervor.

While Manning’s case is exemplary, its unlikely prosecutors will seek death.  In fact, CBS News is reporting that the Army’s prosecution team will not recommend execution to the two-star general who is in charge of proceeding with legal action.

II. Other Charges

While the “aiding the enemy” charge obviously carries the most gravity, Mr. Manning also faces a laundry list of other charges.  

The charges are split into sections labeled “Charge X”, where ‘X’ is the roman numeral of the section.  Each Charge has additional sub-charges, dubbed “Specifications”.  There are 22 Specifications in the new document (hence 22 “charges” in plain English).

Section I covers the capital offense, Section II covers the leaked documents, and Section III covers Manning’s various computer crimes.

Capt. John Haberland, a legal spokesman for the Military District of Washington writes in a statement, “The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Pvt. 1st Class Manning is accused of committing.”

Section II opens with a general charge in Specification 1 of publishing U.S. Military Intelligence.

Specification 2 accuses him of illegally leaking a video called “12 JUL 07 CZ ENGAGEMENT ZONE 30 GC Anyone.avi”, a tape of a chopper attack that killed civilians.  This video became part of Wikileaks‘ “Collateral Murder” documentary.  Specification 11 covers the release of “a file named ‘BE22’ containing a video named ‘BE22 PAX.wmv.'”  This likely is the video of the 2009 Afghani airstrike that Wikileaks published.

Specifications 4-7 line up with other significant Wikileaks publications.  For example the charges state that Mr. Manning stands accused of illegally sharing a “Combined Information Data Network Exchange Iraq database containing more than 380,000 records.”  This is likely the 392,000 record database of Iraq War memos that Wikileaks published last year.  And other charges pertain to the release of 90,000 Afghanistan War memos.  

In both cases, the release of a small number of classified memos was separated into additional charges.

Similarly the U.S. State Department classified and unclassified cables that Mr. Manning allegedly released comprise Specifications 12 and 13.

Specification 8 refers to the release of “700 records” from the “United States Southern Command”.  This likely refers to records of Guatánamo Bay detainees that Wikileaks allegedly currently has possession of and is preparing to release.

Interestingly, he also apparently illegally shared a massive database of U.S. Military personnel emails.  According to Specification 16 he obtained “the United States Forces -Iraq Microsoft Outlook / SharePoint Exchange Server global address list”, which he passed along.

Charge III contains the most “pedestrian” accusations, language pertaining to computer crimes.  He stands accused of “attempting to bypass network or information system security mechanisms”, “adding unauthorized software to a Secret Internet Protocol Router Network computer” (SIPRNET), “using an information system in a manner other than its intended purpose”, “wrongfully storing classified information”.

These charges, for the most part, seem straightforward.

III.  What’s Next for Bradley Manning and Wikileaks

Our sources close to the investigation indicate that the chat logs in which Bradley Manning confessed to convicted ex-hacker Adrian Lamo were authenticated by the U.S. Military, dispelling conspiracy theories by the likes of Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald.  The Military was careful to verify the logs before it pressed forward with additional charges.

The logs were verified by forensic comparison of Mr. Lamo’s hard drive with machine that Mr. Manning was chatting from.

Adrian Lamo says he will cooperate fully with the government investigation and says that history would indicate that the death penalty is unlikely for Mr. Manning.  He comments:

It’s important that the charges be commensurate in penalty with the offense. This is a unique case, and right or not, will be seen as a test case for deterring others. The prosecutors are surely aware of the complexities of the matter. The length of time that has passed prior to bringing these charges shows the care and fairness that has gone into ensuring due process in this matter reflects the seriousness with which the government is treating the bifurcated issues of Manning’s rights and the need to justly prosecute this case.

A trial date has not been set yet for Mr. Manning, as the Military continues its investigation.

Mr. Manning’s attorney apparently expected the charges, commenting in a blog, “The defense has been preparing for the possibility of additional charges in this case.”

In January he filed a complaint on behalf of Mr. Manning, accusing the Military of holding Mr. Manning in unpleasant conditions.  Mr. Manning comments in the complaint:
“I sit in my cell for 24 hours a day. I am stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses are taken away from me. I am forced to sit in essential blindness…Additionally, there is a guard sitting outside of my cell watching me at all times.”

Wikileaks was noticeably not named or discussed in the additional charges.  That’s because the Justice Department is pursuing a separate case against Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange and it will deal with those charges separately.

Mr. Assange recently publicly claimed his site need $31M USD a year in donations to survive — more than twice the budget of Wikipedia.  According to past reports, the site maintains less than five full time employees and enjoys free hosting.  It also maintains a small legal team.  It is unclear where the remainder of the requested donations would be applied.

Wikileaks responded to the charges with a Twitter post, remarking:

Capital charge ‘aiding the enemy’ is a vindictive attack on Manning for exercising his right to silence. No evidence of any such thing.

Mr. Assange faces charges of his own.  Recently bailed out of English prison by U.S. film director Michael Moore, he is awaiting extradition to Sweden for a sex crimes charge.

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