What is the crime for which Bradley Manning faces life in prison after being tortured by his own government for two years? The Army private first class is charged with having “aided the enemy” in violation of the Espionage Act. But who is the “enemy” he aided, other than his fellow Americans, who were alerted to the lies of their government thanks to his heroic actions?
Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, called the charge “a scary proposition.” He warned that it could be leveled against any whistleblower exposing government wrongdoing. “Right there, you will silence a lot of critics of our government, and that’s what makes our government great—that we foster criticism and through it make changes. This is a very serious charge, not just for my client, but for all of us in America.”
In a rare public statement, Coombs condemned how Manning was treated during his nine months in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. “Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched into our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time,” Coombs declared, noting that Manning had been “shackled during limited exercise periods and was at times not allowed his clothing and glasses.” He emphasized, “Not only was it stupid and counterproductive; it was criminal.”
It is the U.S. government that acted criminally in punishing someone who sought to do his duty by exposing government wrongdoing. The charges against Manning stem from his allegedly passing a video and a trove of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks, which not only posted the material but also shared it with the New York Times and two of Europe’s most prestigious newspapers. All of the published reports—the so-called Afghan War Diary and Iraq War logs—contained information that the editors correctly thought the public had a need and right to know.