There has been a lot of legal debate throughout the U.S. over the last few weeks. Maybe that has dulled Americans' appetite for major trials.
One case in particular that is now reaching its climax has seemingly flown under the radar: that of Bradley Manning. Though the case will likely be a watershed moment in terms of journalism, whistleblowing, and national security policy, the Manning trial has not seen the same media attention given to other proceedings this summer.
And this is the biggest moment yet. After eight weeks of trial, scores of government witnesses, and six hours of closing argument, Pfc. Bradley Manning's military prosecutor, Capt. Ashden Fein, on Thursday got to his point: the WikiLeaks source who provided the controversial site with loads of classified documents is about to get what's coming to him.
What Fein said in those closing arguments was absolutely chilling.
“Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker,” Major Fein noted.
“He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it.”
The quote is scary.
Critics of this case have warned that a Manning conviction of “aiding the enemy” would criminalize journalism. Even here in this quote, Fein alludes to journalists as being "the hands of the enemy."
As the New York Times explains:
"As the trial has moved toward its conclusion, the more philosophical questions confronting [Col. Denise Lind] are re-emerging center stage — including whether WikiLeaks played a journalistic role and whether providing information to the anti-secrecy group was any different, for legal purposes, from providing it to a traditional news outlet."
It is believed that a guilty verdict for aiding the enemy would establish a government precedent that giving information to an outlet that publishes it online is the same as handing it over to an enemy, the Times adds.
The leash around the watch dog's neck is being pulled tighter.
The Fourth Estate is already in the government's cross-hairs. In a major ruling on press freedoms last week, a divided federal appeals court ruled that an investigative reporter for the New York Times, must testify in the criminal trial against his own sources after he was leaked information from them.
Friday Update: The judge in the Manning trial will deliberate over the weekend and will give a day’s notice ahead of her verdict. Once a verdict is announced the sentencing phase of the court martial is scheduled to begin next Wednesday.
Manning faces life in a military prison if convicted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. Manning already faces up to 20 years of jail time after pleading guilty in February to some of the lesser charges he faced.
Tuesday Update: Private First Class Bradley Manning was found not guilty of "aiding the enemy" Tuesday after a several-months-long trial.
The verdict isn't unexpected, but for those that believe in Manning's actions, it is still a blow to transparency and debate over the methods and tactics of the U.S. military.
Manning was never expected to escape with less than decades in jail. He already plead guilty to almost a dozen other charges, carrying a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and was found guilty Tuesday of violating the Espionage Act, among others. While the charge of aiding the enemy was the most serious, for which the sentence would have been life in prison, he will still spend the better part of his youth in jail.
It's a small win for whistleblowers, that will be overshadowed by the other charges.