Government’s strategy: A double noose for Manning and Assange

In Manning trial opening statement, prosecutor argument carries worrying First Amendment repercussions

Topics: Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, james rosen, bradley manning trial, Fort Meade, First Amendment, ,

The government prosecutor’s intentions were clear in his opening statements at Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court-martial hearing. He attempted to paint the soldier as a fame-seeker, leaking government documents out of self-interest. Part of the tactic included arguing that Manning’s relationship to WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange was closer than previously had been established. Indeed, even WikiLeaks’ most fervent supporters would struggle to defend Assange against charges of narcissism — the prosecutor’s strategy in linking the two men was in this way not subtle. Its repercussions if successful, however, could be far-reaching and chilling.

The prosecutor went as far as to say that Manning was taking direction from WikiLeaks, following the site’s “most wanted” list when searching for classified documents to leak. Assange was mentioned no fewer than eight times in the prosecution’s opening statements.

Manning’s defense team outright rejected the government’s claims.”There is no evidence to support that Manning took direction from WikiLeaks or that he used this list as a guide to what he would give to WikiLeaks. Mr Manning was not taking his direction from WikiLeaks,” Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, told the court.

Ed Pilkington of the Guardian noted, “The prosecution case that Assange and Manning were actively acting together has widespread ramifications, not just for the trial of Manning, who faces 21 counts relating to the leaks that carry a possible life in military custody. The claim also has potentially serious implications for Assange himself, who has been, and may still remain, the subject of a grand jury investigation in Virginia exploring the possibility of a federal criminal prosecution against him.”

And there is a further point to add. I have no love for Julian Assange, but a particularly worrying precedent could be set if the government, through levying “aiding the enemy” charges at Manning, is able to frame as criminal Assange’s actions in obtaining and publishing leaked information. In light of recent revelations that an FBI affidavit named Fox News reporter James Rosen as a potential “co-conspirator” in a leaks investigation, the suggestion of an Assange-Manning alignment worthy of prosecution again illustrates a troubling tendency from this administration to persecute not only whistle-blowers, but the journalists that seek government information.



The suggestion, clearly made by Manning’s prosecutor, is that Assange actively solicited information and therefore acted outside the remit of protected journalistic activity. A criminal prosecution against the WikiLeaks publisher would set a troubling precedent for the future of journalists who seek sensitive information from sources (the ostensible premise of strong national security reporting). Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, has pointed out that it’s a clear abrogation of the First Amendment “for the administration to target Julian Assange or any individual who discloses information that that individual receives when that person has made no pledge and is under no obligation legally to keep that information within the government.”

Goitein emphasized, “When you start talking about people who are acting as spies, and quite liberally funneling information to foreign governments that they know can be used to hurt the United States, you’re talking about something different. In terms of whether the First Amendment would protect that, I think courts would be working with a very different set of facts. That is not what we’ve been talking about in any of these cases.”

Assange himself, speaking from the refuge of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he is fighting extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, commented on the troubling implications of the government prosecutor’s argument:

The precedent works like this: If you communicate with a journalist, then you communicate with a publisher, then you communicate with the public, then you communicate with al Qaeda — so you communicate with enemies of the United States, and as a result your communications with a journalist must be punished by death or life imprisonment. If tolerated, that will lead to regimes where every U.S. government source, when speaking to a journalist, must be concerned that they will suffer either the death penalty or life imprisonment as a result. Now having established that, the U.S. government will have set the precedent that not only is the [source] indirectly communicating with al Qaeda by communicating with the public, but the publisher and the journalist is as well. And therefore the publisher and the journalist can be embroiled in espionage charges, some of which similarly carry the death penalty.

It’s within our sad state of media polemics that I feel compelled to note: I think the sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange must be taken seriously. That said, I think the government attempt to align Manning with Assange is a disturbing double-play: First, it paints Manning as an Assange-style narcissist, seeking fame through whistle-blowing; Second, it lays the ground for an attack on Assange-as-publisher and publisher-as-criminal that has chilling implications for the future of First Amendment-protected activity.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>