The Alleged Wikileaks Leaker Is Arraigned
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
For the last year and a half, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning has sat alone in a prison cell. A variety of prison cells, to be exact.
In Spring 2010, the military identified Manning as the source of several high profile leaks on the Wikileaks website. Among the classified leaks Manning is said to have provided: the “Collateral Murder” video of a Army helicopter strike in Iraq in 2007, the “Iraq War Logs” and the massive release of State Department diplomatic cables. (Manning has never confessed to these charges, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has refused to identify his source for the documents.)
The shy, some say troubled, young Army private was first taken into military custody May 26 in Baghdad and held in an undisclosed location, widely reported to be Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. In July of that year, Manning was transferred to a maximum security military brig at the Marine Corps’ base in Quantico, Virginia, on charges of copying secure documents to his computer and transferring them to unauthorized sources.
For eight months, little happened while Manning sat in solitary confinement in his 6′ by 12′ cell, unable to see anyone including his defense team. Then in March 2011, he was charged with 22 specific crimes, including theft, fraud and “aiding the enemy.” One month later, the group Amnesty International and several legal scholars labeled Manning’s isolation “harsh, punitive,” and in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. That same month, the military moved Manning to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has remained until today when he was brought to Fort Meade, outside Washington DC, for formal arraignment.
It was his first day in public view for 18 months.
Manning, Wikileaks, And The Price of Secrecy
Friday’s hearing,technically an “Article 32 Inquest,” is the military’s equivalent of a preliminary hearing, where the military court determines if there is enough evidence to proceed with a full court martial proceeding. (VOA’s Bill Ide has our report on the proceedings here, and Nico Columbant has this report on Manning’s supporters.) It’s a long and sometimes grueling process, but it’s only the start of Manning’s legal woes. The Justice Department has also brought a case against him in civilian court, and several other governments are considering charging him with national security violations.
And he’s not the only one.
While Bradley Manning has never formally admitted guilt to passing documents to Wikileaks, a series of email chats in 2010 with hacker-journalist Adrian Lamo seem to be both confession and accusation:
12:15:11 PM Manning: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time … say, 8-9 months … and you saw incredible things, awful things … things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … what would you do? …
12:26:09 PM Manning: lets just say *someone* i know intimately well, has been penetrating US classified networks, mining data like the ones described … and been transferring that data from the classified networks over the “air gap” onto a commercial network computer … sorting the data, compressing it, encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white haired aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long =L …
12:31:43 PM Manning: crazy white haired dude = Julian Assange …
“Treat this as a confession or an interview,” Lamo wrote. Manning continued to text the next day:
02:22:47 PM, Manning: i mean what if i were someone more malicious
02:23:25 PM, Manning: i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?
02:23:36 PM, Lamo: why didn’t you?
02:23:58 PM, Manning: because it’s public data …
Since he launched the Wikileaks website in 2006, Julian Assange – the “crazy white haired aussie” – has been giving governments around the world fits. Starting as an international whistle-blower site, Wikileaks published leaked documents on Icelandic banking, Kenyan corruption and celebrity misdeeds. But along the way it became largely focused on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; and by extension, the U.S. government.
The Obama administration has been trying to make the case that Assange and others actively assisted Manning in his leaking. The Justice Department has subpoened Twitter records from Wikileaks supporters – including Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir – and Assange’s U.S. attorney, Mark Stephens, has alleged there is a secret grand jury seated to charge Assange with violating the Espionage Act. (U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder neither confirms or denies this, saying only that “significant actions” have been authorized.)
But as Raffi Khatchadourian documented in The New Yorker, such efforts have produced few results. Assange has steadfastly denied any conspiracy with Manning, and despite his own legal troubles with Swedish and British authorities, the U.S. has not been able to get any charges to stick to Assange.
Not that it hasn’t cost him, or Wikileaks. Under pressure from Washington, major credit card companies have suspended all supporter donations to the group. Although it continues to publish, just last week launching the so-called “Spy Files” project, Wikileaks’ leadership has begun to fray. As for Assange, he’s spent over one year largely confined to house arrest in Britain, and in his rare public appearances seems noticeably worn.
A Confined Future
Considering the unprecedented size of the secrecy breach, and the significant embarrassment caused to the U.S. government, it’s a sure bet that Bradley Manning will spend the rest of life behind bars. The larger issues remain untested: who is a journalist, what constitutes a secret, and how can they be stopped once they’re out there on the Internet?
The Pentagon and State Department have tightened access and constricted their use of the SIPRnet computer network Manning used to access military logs and diplomatic cables. And the Defense Department has launched several initiatives, one of them called “PRODIGAL,” to catch would-be snoops and leakers.
But leaks are unavoidable, as the Pentagon well knows. And in the Internet era, plugging the leak once it has begun can be next to impossible.
Bradley Manning’s military trial is expected to begin in earnest sometime in the Spring. Until then, he will make his home back in his prison cell at Fort Leavenworth.
Our complete Wikileaks coverage can be found here.