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America’s Police State Marches On, Media in Tow

BREAKING!: It could well be that the harsh pretrial treatment of Bradley Manning and the harsh verdict handed down against him Tuesday may have been what convinced Russian authorities of the validity of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s appeal for asylum, which his Russian attorney and his father have both now announced has been granted [1] this morning. (Snowden in his application asserted that he cannot hope to receive a fair trial in the US, where Washington leaders have been publicly calling him a traitor and have been clamoring for harsh punishment, and where even the president has condemned him as a “hacker,” instead of a whistleblower who exposed the nation’s ubiquitous spying on all electronic communications of all Americans in wholesale violation of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution). Snowden has reportedly left the Moscow airport where he had been stranded by US revocation of his passport, and has entered Moscow as a political refugee from US state terror.

The New York Times, in an editorial published the day after a military judge found Pvt. Bradley Manning “not guilty” of “aiding the enemy” — a charge that would have locked him up for life without possibility of parole and could have carried the death penalty — but also found him guilty on multiple counts of “espionage,” called the verdict (not guilty of aiding the enemy, guilty of espionage) “Mixed.”

The Times editorial writers were as mixed up as the judge, though.

The lead article got it right with the headline: “Manning Found Not Guilty of Aiding the Enemy,” and with the subhead: “Leaker Convicted of Most Other Charges.” Clearly, Manning was not the traitor that many charlatans in Congress and the media called him, but was rather a leaker who was trying to inform the public about crimes, misdeed and wrongdoing in the US military’s conduct of the war in Iraq, US diplomacy and US handling of prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

But an accompanying sidebar article didn’t fare so well at the editors’ hands. On the front page, the headline read: “Loner Sought a Refuge, and Chose the Army,” with the subhead reading: “After an Anguished Youth, Accused of Being a Traitor.” Bad enough to focus on the “traitor” angle, which has been clearly shown to have been the over-wrought fantasy of cowardly politicians and pundits who wrap themselves in the flag. But totally off base was the headline over the jump for that story, on page 13, which read: “Loner Who Sought a Refuge, Chose the Army, and Betrayed His Country.”

Excuse me?

Manning admits he broke the law in downloading secret military and diplomatic documents like the notorious gunsight video of an Apache helicopter mowing down civilians in Iraq, including children and laughing as they slaughtered the people below them with machine-gun fire, or the embarrassing embassy cables mocking foreign leaders. But he made clear in testimony at the trial that he was never intending to hurt his country — only to let the public know about the vile and often criminal activities being perpetrated by the government in their name.

As much as the political and military leaders in Washington want us to believe it, the government is not the country. And when Manning provided those documents and videos to Wikileaks, which then turned them over to news organizations like the New York Times and the British Guardian newspaper — which then ran articles about many of them, recognizing their importance as news — he was acting in the honored tradition of a truth-teller. He was a leaker, yes, but that’s a good thing. He was not a traitor, and he was not betraying his country. Rather he was honoring his high oath as a soldier: to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The New York Times (which went on to trash both Manning and Wikileaks), should run a correction for that headline, which is an obscenity.

The editors, I suppose, might be excused for their error. They never really did pay much attention to the long-running “trial” of Pvt. Manning, and in fact were criticized for ignoring it by the paper’s own Public Editor or ombudsman, who roundly decried their poor news sense in not assigning a reporter to follow the trial on a steady instead of a fly-by basis. Not only that, but the so-called trial itself was largely held in secret, with reporters constrained in what they could cover, in the notes they could take, and in their access to the defendant.

The multiple charges of espionage on which Manning was found guilty by the military judge never should have been leveled against Manning. They are based upon a hoary 1917 Espionage Act which was enacted to enable the government to arrest people who were opposed to the US involvement in World War I. It was a political law from the outset, and it is being employed now to an unprecedented and unconscionable extent by the Obama administration to try and terrorize would-be whistleblowers. The Obama administration, which had come into office praising whistleblowing and promising a new openness and transparency in government, has employed the Espionage Act a record seven times against whistleblowers, including Manning — more than double all the prosecutions under the act (three!) under all previous presidents since the act’s 1917 enactment.

Openness my ass.

Yet instead of making that point, another national paper, USA Today, focused in its initial report on the Manning verdict [2], on how Congress should probably revisit the hoary Espionage Act to update its definition of espionage for the modern internet age, making it easier to convict those who leak information not to an “enemy,” but to the public, and perhaps inadvertently to the government’s designated “enemies” of the moment, who might not be enemy states at all.

None of the media coverage of the Manning verdict mentioned that what he leaked in many cases was evidence of war crimes, and that there has been not a single prosecution or even investigation of any of those war crimes exposed by the courageous actions of Pvt. Manning. Instead, the government has come down with extraordinary legal force on him for exposing them.

It is not Manning who has betrayed his country. It is his country that is betraying Manning.

The world is watching, even if the American media and public are not. Seventeen members of the European Parliament have publicly called for the US to free him.

Meanwhile if any evidence were needed that Snowden deserved to be sheltered from the political thugs and their hired-gun prosecutors and complicit jurists in Washington, it has been the current perverse persecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning and the kangaroo court that was trying him. More evidence can be found in the case of Aaron Swarz, the hacker and internet activist hounded to suicide by a federal prosecutor who was threatening to lock him up for 20 years for the minor crime of copyright violation(!) in hacking into an MIT computer and “liberating” hundreds of thousands of academic papers — an action Swarz took seeking not a penny of profit. This week, a study commissioned by the president of the school condemned MIT for not acting to try and call off the prosecutor, and thus for contributing to the pressures that led to Swarz taking his own life last January at 26.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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