FORT MEADE, Md. – The judge in the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning on Thursday refused to dismiss the most serious charge against him, damaging his prospects for emerging from the trial as a whistleblower concerned about government abuse rather than a disgruntled soldier driven to assist al-Qaida.
The decision by Col. Denise Lind upholding the charge of aiding the enemy signaled that she may be preparing to find Manning guilty. This could mean that Manning – who gave the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks more than 700,000 U.S. intelligence files, videos and diplomatic cables – might spend the rest of his life in a military brig with no chance of parole.
The judge said the government had provided evidence that established Manning “actually knew he was dealing with the enemy” by providing the material to WikiLeaks that he knew would be posted on the Internet and made available to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. “He was knowingly providing information to the enemy,” she said.
Several legal and civil rights experts said the judge’s decision would have “far-reaching implications” for future leakers or would-be whistleblowers.
“You don’t need specialized intelligence training to know that terrorists use the Internet,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “By this logic, any military officer who discloses information to the media or posts it on the Internet could be charged with aiding the enemy. That’s not consistent with the purpose of the law, and it could have a dramatic chilling effect.”
Widney Brown of Amnesty International said Manning had no “general evil intent” in sharing the material with WikiLeaks despite the government’s determination to keep him in prison for life. Rather, she said, Manning was more interested in informing the public about military and government abuses than sympathizing with al-Qaida.
“The charge should be withdrawn,” she said. “This makes a mockery of the U.S. military court system.”
The material Manning provided to WikiLeaks gave the public an unprecedented look inside U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a window into how the administration views and treats its allies overseas.
Closing arguments in the case could come today.