Transparency isn’t treason: New York Times journalists criticize “aiding the enemy” charge
Last week in Fort Meade, MD, government prosecutors said that if PFC Bradley Manning had released documents to the New York Times instead of WikiLeaks, they would still charge him with indirectly ‘aiding the enemy,’ which carries a life sentence.
This would be unprecedented: never before has a soldier been sent to jail for ‘aiding the enemy’ as a result of giving information to a news outlet. Government prosecutors argue that Manning needn’t have intended to aid the enemy; merely that he knew Al Qaeda could use the information is enough. This would turn all government whistle-blowing into treason: a grave threat to both potential sources and American journalism.
Following this contention in court, the Los Angeles Times called on the government to drop the ‘aiding the enemy’ charge, writing in an editorial, “That charge strikes us as excessive in the absence of evidence that Manning consciously colluded with hostile nations or terrorists.” Since then, even higher-profile media members have condemned the military’s pernicious claim and the precedent it would set. In an email in which she explained she couldn’t speak on behalf of her newspaper but could comment as a lifelong journalist and a former newspaper editor, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan said,
“The implications for press freedom in the Bradley Manning prosecution trouble me, as does the federal government’s unprecedented targeting, in recent years, of whistleblowers and those who leak to the press. The issues certainly aren’t black and white, but if the public expects the press to do its crucial job in our democracy, people ought to be more worried than they apparently are. And I agree with the Los Angeles Times editorial that the “aiding the enemy” charge, which could result in a life sentence, is excessive.”New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller said, “I think the treatment of Manning feels heavy-handed and out of proportion to actual harm done.”
In Michael Calderone’s story for the Huffington Post, “Manning Case Raises Troubling Questions For Journalists,” about the implications of this argument, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest said, “they don’t want other people to get the idea that they should be doing this,” and that it’ll have a “chilling effect on sources.”
Glenn Greenwald wrote for the Guardian, “[the government’s argument] can be – and almost certainly will be – just as easily applied to the vast majority of leaks on which investigative journalism has always relied.”
Mainstream news outlets, Greenwald said,
“might want to take a serious interest in this fact and marshal opposition to what is being done to Bradley Manning: if not out of concern for the injustices to which he is being subjected, then out of self-interest, to ensure that their reporters and their past and future whistle-blowing sources cannot be similarly persecuted.”So why does the government continue to prosecute this way? Keller said, “It’s been clear from the outset that the government decided to make a lesson of Bradley Manning,” and that “the extreme conditions of his early confinement and the aiding-the-enemy charges suggest a deep animus toward Bradley.”
As the government works to discourage future leakers and to tighten security, it also classifies exponentially more documents every day. This harms the very people Bradley Manning wanted to inform in the first place: the American people.