WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has been acquitted of the most serious charge against him, that of aiding the enemy. But the 20-something other charges, including espionage, have stuck and could land him a sentence of more than 100 years in prison.
In the media world, even national security hawks like The Daily Beast's Eli Lake concede that Manning's leaks had "a lot of public benefit." But very few have argued Manning should go free.
Did Manning break the law? According to the letter, yes he did. But since when did we presume to hold people in government accountable to the law?
The Bush administration lied to the American people in order to justify the war crime of attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq. That crime qualified, in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal, as "the supreme international crime differing only from other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole." Trillions of dollars and the death and suffering of millions of people were the consequences of that crime.
The Bush gang also secretly ordered warrantless surveillance of Americans' domestic communications without involving the courts, a blatant violation of both constitutional and statutory law. And don't forget the setting up of a worldwide torture regime that directly violated longstanding international law as well as domestic law, specifically a Convention against torture, passed by Congress and signed by Ronald Reagan, which specifies that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever... may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Yet, nobody but the most marginal voices in our politics ever dared to suggest the Bush administration should be prosecuted according to the letter of the law.
Many of these types of crimes have extended into the Obama era as well. The Obama administration's penchant for secret legal interpretations of when the Bill of Rights applies and when it doesn't conflicts with basic principles of the rule of law.
James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, recently committed perjury when he lied to Congress about whether the National Security Agency collects information on American citizens, a federal crime as it turns out. He issued an apology, but otherwise faces no consequences.
In the U.S., there are crimes the government approves of and those it doesn't. Contrast Bradley Manning's punishment, for example, with that of the commander in charge of the torture at Abu Ghraib. Manning was subjected to abusive detention and faces more than a hundred years in prison. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who oversaw the brutal torment of hundreds of detainees got an $8,000 fine.
Bradley Manning's leaks revealed crimes far worse than the ones he has supposedly committed. The Collateral Murder video shows the sickening slaughter of a group of people in Iraq, including journalists and rescuers.
One State Department cable revealed to the world for the first time that U.S. special operations forces raided a house in Iraq in 2006 and summarily executed one man, four women, two children, and three infants -- all shot in the head. Although Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, brought the incident to the attention of then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Bush administration failed to respond.
Manning's leaks also revealed the fact that the Obama administration colluded with the Yemeni dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh to execute a secret war without the consent of Congress and systematically lie about it. Yet Manning, who blew the whistle on this criminality, is the only one facing legal prosecution.
The lopsided nature of our legal system is well-known to any close observer of American politics. The law is for the powerful to defy with impunity, and for the weak to be punished with.
History, at least, will look very kindly on the actions of Bradley Manning and harshly on the crimes of the overlords he challenged. The real task is for Americans to get to the point where the country -- and its government -- is ruled by law, and not by men.
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