An American court-martial has found the soldier Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy in releasing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic files to the fledgling website WikiLeaks after opting not to publish with the Washington Post and being unable to contact the New York Times. WikiLeaks, it seems, was the last resort.
Manning's life is over, barely before it began.
None of this is that surprising: the young American broke the law and he was brought before it, where after an eight-week trial in Fort Meade, Maryland, he was found in breach and will serve a hefty jail sentence. Whether the punishment is viewed as harsh or not is another story entirely. But one thing is for sure: This tale is over. The secret documents -- of supposed primary importance on the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - were released by WikiLeaks in July and October 2010, but ask yourself: what do you remember of them nearly three scant years on? For me, it's a video (below) from a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq showing soldiers on board firing on journalists and other innocents, killing several. Tragic though the incident was, such confusion undeniably occurs in conflict zones.
Was it for that the Manning effectively gave up his life?
The man who rose to fame on the back of the documents is, meanwhile, in a jail of his own making and has been there for over a year, with no notion of when he might be able to leave. Julian Assange's WikiLeaks has in the intervening years been reduced to a watery website that churns out "very sensitive" material like the mundane emails of a security firm -- the provider of which, Jeremy Hammond, has pleaded guilty to the theft to a court in New York and looks set to be handed a 10-year sentence in September -- and rehashed declassified information that has been publicly available for years.
Assange, 42, has been living at the Ecuadorean Embassy in central London since June of last year after battling the courts in England against an extradition request by Sweden, where the authorities want to question him in relation to two complaints of sexual assault by two women, with the Supreme Court finally ordering his extradition, promoting Assange's flight to the embassy, where in a multimillion-pound operation British police have been stationed ever since waiting for him to pop out so they can haul him back in to court for contempt and possibly other charges. The former computer hacker is afraid that if he is sent to Sweden, he might swiftly be dispatched onwards to the United States, whose government he has angered over publishing Manning's leaks. That argument did not work with the courts in England, and for good reason: you can't avoid one legal matter for fear of another that may lie ahead, elsewhere, entirely unconnected.
Now Assange is hoping to sidestep justice entirely, by -- bizarrely -- attempting to become a politician in his homeland. He hopes to become, of all things, a senator in the state of Victoria in elections later this year under his newly launched WikiLeaks Party. Will the people of Victoria vote for a man who not only they cannot see in the flesh but is a fugitive from justice? Even if he is elected, Assange surely will not be able to take up his seat. It smells like a ruse.
Assange recently rose to prominence again on the back of his newest new buddy, Edward Snowden, whose flight from Hong Kong to Russia after leaking American intelligence secrets WikiLeaks says it helped organize. Straight away, without even knowing the man, Assange was calling him a chummy "Ed," and sought from his dismal dwellings in Knightsbridge to link himself to the global story, surely silently cursing Snowden for not having leaked to him instead of the Guardian and Washington Post, among other publications, and thereby not only buttressing his fading organization but his own ego, said by some who have known him to border on messianic.
In all of this, it has become clear with the Assange saga that the utmost priority is to clear the air. No one can go through their lives, personal and professional, especially in the public eye, with accusations of sexual misconduct dogging them, fears of forward American punishment or not. It's all the more critical when trying to woo voters and get yourself into office, a place where peccadilloes are not tolerated, even in laidback Australia. That means that Assange must face questioning in Sweden. Come out of the embassy and face the world. In the words of some, Assange should Manning up.
Follow William J. Furney on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wmfurney