The US military court trying Bradley Manning for releasing thousands of secret documents to the whistleblowing Wikileaks website has ruled he cannot raise his motives as part of his defence. From the Guardian:
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial stage of the court martial, and must be held back until Manning either entered a plea or was found guilty, at which point it could be used in mitigation to lessen the sentence. The ruling is a blow to the defence as it will make it harder for the soldier’s legal team to argue he was acting as a whistleblower and not as someone who knowingly damaged US interests at a time of war.
After the pre-trial hearing, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning support network, Nathan Fuller, said “This is another effort to attack the whistleblower defence.”
Colonel Lind has also stopped the defence from presenting evidence designed to show that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security. This is after David Coombs, Manning’s lead defence lawyer, spent a long time trying to extract from US government agencies their official assessments of the impact of WikiLeaks around the world. All this information has been ruled inadmissible.
The 25-year-old intelligence analyst faces 22 charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and videos of US military actions. The most serious charge, “aiding the enemy”, which carries the life sentence, accuses him of arranging for state secrets to be published via WikiLeaks on the internet knowing that al-Qaida would have access to it. The fact that he cannot use the whistleblower’s defence means his legal options are severely limited. Basically, he has been set up to lose.
The message from the court is clear: whistleblowers will face the full fury of the law, regardless of motives. The precedent of the Pentagon Papers, or of “Deep Throat” in the Watergate case, no longer stands, it would seem. Once it was seen as acceptable to leak info if one thought it was morally imperative. But no more. This will ensure that Julian Assange won’t be leaving the Ecuador embassy in London for some time. And it will have a corrosive effect on democracy in general – if we can’t bring our governments’ crimes into the light, there will be nothing to stop them committing even worse outrages. It makes the authorities truly untouchable, turning the very idea of democracy into a cruel joke. And it should stand as an important message: if you are going to blow any whistles, don’t go bragging about it. Especially to an asshole like Adrian Lamo.