The campaign to defend Marine Pfc. Bradley Manning received a surprising boost when top State Department spokesperson, Philip Crowley, criticized the Pentagon’s treatment of the Manning as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” The president lost an opportunity to warn against abusive treatment of Manning, who is in solitary confinement and forced since March 2 to sleep naked through the night. Manning was arrested in May 2010, and is charged with downloading hundreds of thousands of diplomatic reports on Iraq and Afghanistan, and passing them to WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is appealing a London tribunal decision to extradite him to Sweden, where he fears being arrested and taken to the United States. Karl Rove is a political adviser to the Swedish government.
Any trials of Assange, Manning or others, if open to the media, promise to be historic and sensational. After an initial uproar which included death threats against Manning by U.S. officials and pundits, WikiLeaks documents have become essential threads in daily coverage of events in the Middle East and North Africa. Mainstream publications like the New York Times, which collaborated with WikiLeaks in bringing the classified documents to public light, will have a major dilemma in covering the forthcoming trials. Bill Keller, the Times editor who negotiated the WikiLeaks disclosures, recently wrote sympathetically:
“...it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to be to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country.
“As one of my colleagues asks: if Assange were an understated professional type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy towards the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?”
Excellent points. Keller may have to repeat them to a jury someday soon, at a trial where 733,000 WikiLeaks documents presumably will be placed in evidence, showing cover-ups of civilian casualties and torture facilitated by U.S. troops. If the media thought the WikiLeaks cables worth publishing in hundreds of articles, can they casually throw their sources under the bus?