Surprised that Bradley Manning was found not guilty of aiding the enemy? Actually, the legal hurdle necessary to prove such a violation occurred is set very high. And Manning had already pleaded guilty to some of the charges and was found guilty of multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act because he disclosed classified information.
Manning had top-secret security clearance as a tactical-level intelligence analyst in Iraq and signed numerous nondisclosure agreements. He had both a legal and a moral obligation to abide by those agreements and the oath he took when he joined the Army. He damaged our national security, betrayed his country and endangered the lives of intelligence assets and his fellow military personnel.
He disclosed more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, an organization well known for its hostility to the United States, knowing that they would post the information on the Internet.
That disclosure provided the brutal enemy we were fighting in Iran and Afghanistan with crucial strategic and tactical information, such as almost half a million after-action battlefield reports. Those reports could help them counter our military operations and help them kill American troops.
For that reason alone, Manning deserves life in prison. The sentencing phase of Manning’s trial has now started and he faces a maximum of 136 years.
Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein said in the trial that Manning was on a “personal quest for notoriety” and fame as a leaker. When he turned over his first cache of classified documents to WikiLeaks, he attached a note saying, “This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of the 21st-century asymmetric warfare.”
That “fog of war” helps protect the methods, means and tactics our troops use when they are in harm’s way, which is why documents that he leaked were found in Osama bin Laden’s compound when justice finally caught up with the genocidal planner of the 9/11 attacks. Manning clearly had no concern whatsoever about how his leaks would harm Americans who were fighting tough battles against terrorists, extremists and other fanatics.
The evidence produced in the trial does not support the claim that Manning was “well-intentioned” or that he simply wanted to “spark a worldwide discussion” as his defense lawyer, David Coombs, claimed. Even if that were true, anyone with any common sense would have known that the documents he was leaking would harm our counterinsurgency fight. Manning’s claim that he screened the documents to make sure none would endanger our military personnel is ridiculous and an obvious self-serving lie — he had no ability to screen 700,000-plus documents.
Manning’s defense counsel also claimed that Manning leaked the military and diplomatic documents because he was “increasingly disturbed by the violence in Iraq.” That violence was disturbing — but it was generated by al-Qaida and other fundamentalist jihadist groups. America was trying to stop its bombings, murders and massacres, and we would have been glad to leave if they had simply stopped their violence and participated in a civilized manner in the civil society that Iraq and Afghanistan were trying to rebuild. What Manning did simply helped those responsible for the violence.
Manning was neither a hero nor a whistleblower. It was not up to him to decide that American policy was wrong and should be stopped through the dangerous disclosure of classified information that he had agreed to keep secret.
If he disagreed with the war policy our military leaders had implemented against terrorists at the direction of the president and with the support of Congress, he could have left the military and spoken out about those policies without revealing classified information that put American warfighters at risk.
But that wouldn’t have made him a hero in the eyes of some, particularly those like WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, who have made clear their hatred of America and our policies, including our fight against terrorism. We will never know the full extent to which Manning’s disclosures have harmed our national security or resulted in the deaths of American soldiers and other brave people willing to place their lives on the line to help us.
Bradley Manning was rightly found guilty. We hope he gets the many years in prison that he deserves for his unscrupulous and illegal actions.
Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow and John Malcolm is the director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.