Manning sentencing focuses on wrong "chilling effect"

State Dept. says leaks chilled foreign relations, but Manning case is about chilling dissent, whistle-blowing

By Natasha Lennard

Published August 6, 2013 3:33PM (EDT)

Senior State Department official Patrick Kennedy testified in the sentencing portion of Pfc. Bradley Manning's trial on Monday. The point of bringing State Department testimony on to the stand at this point in the military trial is to attempt to establish the damage caused to U.S. interests by Manning's leaks. According to Kennedy, the release of the WikiLeaks cables had a "chilling effect" on U.S. diplomatic relations overseas.

“These disclosures had a chilling effect on foreign officials,” said Kennedy. Reporting from Fort Meade, Kevin Gosztola noted that Kennedy claimed "that the State Department has had situations in which individuals have felt they 'don’t have the same ability to engage in the level of full and frank discussion' prior to the disclosures." As Gosztola pointed out, however, Kennedy said that he had only heard from a handful of associates that they felt diplomatic speech had been chilled by Manning's actions and the state department official could give little content to his claim.

"How much should some speculative 'chilling effect' factor in to Manning’s sentence [which could total up to 136 years], especially if only a few diplomats have expressed this feeling of being 'chilled?'"asked Gosztola.

Kennedy is right that the Manning case has had a chilling effect -- he's just talking about the wrong one. In line with comments made Tuesday by CIA whistle-blower John Kiriakou (currently in prison for leaking information to the press about Bush-era torture programs), Manning's ordeal is part of a larger war on whistle-blowers, with a clear aim to chill those who would follow in Manning's footsteps. As Kiriakou wrote in the Guardian Tuesday:

Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, declared a war on whistle-blowers virtually as soon as they assumed office. Some of the investigations began during the Bush administration, as was the case with NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake, but Espionage Act cases have been prosecuted only under Obama. The president has chosen to ignore the legal definition of whistle-blower – any person who brings to light evidence of waste, fraud, abuse or illegality – and has prosecuted truthtellers.

As I wrote earlier this week in regards to what's at stake in Manning's sentencing, the U.S. government has turned the soldier into an example such that anyone who speaks out against the actions of the U.S. government or military like Manning can fear the treatment Manning has received. I noted, "It’s a truth Ed Snowden knows and fears all too well."

Last week, the Pentagon official who oversaw the review of WikiLeaks fallout told the Fort Meade courtroom last week that not one U.S. death could be attributed to Manning's actions. There is some irony that the worst fallout the State Department could note from Manning's actions was a speculated "chilling effect" -- as it is with the intention of creating a deep chill that government prosecutors have fiercely pursued the whistle-blower.

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

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