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June 21st, 2013

Manning Case Challenges Definition of “Whistleblower”

The court martial for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning began on June 3 in Fort Meade, Md. Manning was arrested three years ago for leaking 700,000 classified U.S. government documents to the website WikiLeaks. Manning has pled guilty to some of the lesser charges; however, the most serious charges, including aiding the enemy, are still to be presented in court and could lead to a life sentence.

Supporters of Bradley Manning hold vigil outside the gates of Fort Meade before Manning's December 2012 preliminary hearing.

Supporters of Bradley Manning hold vigil outside the gates of Fort Meade before Manning’s December 2012 preliminary hearing.

In May 2010, former computer hacker Adrian Lamo says he was approached by 22-year-old intelligence analyst Bradley Manning with video and thousands of diplomatic cables detailing a series of military blunders that led to the death of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The classified information was then published on WikiLeaks, a website created by Australian activist Julian Assange that posts information to expose government and corporate secrets. The publishing of this raw data roused government and military officials to find the source of the leak and to prosecute the person responsible to the full extent of the law. Lamo turned over Manning to authorities.

Manning’s arrest has stirred intense debate over what it means to be a whistleblower and what constitutes fair punishment. Manning was placed in intensive solitary confinement, locked in his cell 23 hours a day and forced to sleep without a pillow or sheets—treatment his lawyers say violated his right to a trial and reasonable punishment.

Is Manning a whistle-blower or a traitor?

In their opening statement, the prosecution outlined the events surrounding the leak. They need to prove that Manning knew his actions could aid the enemy, in this case, al-Qaida terrorists and militants fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The defense is arguing that Manning thought of himself as a whistleblower. His lawyers say he was well-intentioned in his actions despite being unquestionably naive. They say that Manning saw what was happening in Iraq as a disregard for Iraqi life and felt he had the moral obligation to reveal what he saw even if he was breaking the law.

Trial may set precedent for whistleblowers

The trial has significant implications for future whistleblowers. Possibly the most famous whistleblower is Daniel Ellsberg who in 1971 leaked the “Pentagon Papers,” a series of classified documents regarding the Vietnam War to the New York Times and Washington Post.

At the time, Ellsberg said, “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”

Ellsberg was one of the first people to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. The charges were dismissed after evidence of illegal wiretapping and other investigative misconduct came to light during the trial.

Just this month, Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former defense contractor leaked details on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program which monitors internet data to find terrorists, but is been seen by many as a massive invasion of privacy.

The outcome of the Manning trial could determine the future of other Americans who leak classified information in the name of informing the public.

– Compiled by Aileen Graef for NewsHour Extra

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