By Kevin Wilson
Special to The Globe
A military judge found Army Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of the most serious charge against him, “aiding the enemy.” The charge was unprecedented in a leaks case and one that, if it had stood, could make any journalist writing about national security, defense or foreign policy subject to prosecution for using classified material in a publication that might conceivably be read by an enemy.
Manning is hardly getting off with a wrist slap. He was convicted on 20 other charges, ranging from espionage to “wanton publication of intelligence on the Internet.” For this, he stands to serve 136 years in prison, although that may be reduced to 116 as his sentencing hearing begins.
But the Manning case raises troubling questions, not the least of which is how someone so junior could have access to so much presumably highly secret information.
Unless the recruiter was desperate for bodies, Manning was an unlikely and unpromising candidate for military life with plenty of red flags in his background. He was badly bullied by his father; his Welsh mother never adapted to life in the United States and took her son to Wales, where he was reportedly teased unmercifully by his classmates. On his return to the States, he had a falling out with his father and for a while lived in his car.
As The New York Times put it, he bounced “back and forth between places where he never really fit in.” One of those places was the U.S. Army, where in 2010 Manning, then 22, downloaded 700,000 files of military and diplomatic secrets, war logs and gun-camera videos onto flash drives.
Manning wrote — government watchdogs, please note — that he exploited a system of “weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis.” And we need a weak, psychologically troubled amateur snoop to tell us this?
Manning justified his leak of the information as a way of sparking debate on the military’s role in our foreign policy, as if our think tanks don’t do enough of that already. In the end, he was betrayed by some of the people he naively trusted with knowledge of what he was doing.
Finally, it’s hard to believe that the U.S. military justice system condoned the conditions of his incarceration: 23 hours a day of solitary confinement, sometimes stripped naked, in a tiny cell.
Manning’s case will be overshadowed by the greater, more deliberate and more damaging wholesale leaks of Edward Snowden, also a junior cog in the intelligence apparatus. But Manning’s recruitment, ease of access to classified information and his unacceptable treatment after his arrest show that the military still has work to be done.
— Scripps Howard News Service