The sky darkens for American journalism

Chase Madar writes: Bradley Manning released hundreds of thousands of government documents and files to Wikileaks, most famous among them the unclassified video Wikileaks dubbed, “Collateral Murder”, a harrowing gun-sight view of an Apache helicopter slaughtering a couple of armed men and a much larger group of civilians on a Baghdad street in July, 2007.

The court-martial of Pfc. Manning, finally underway over three years after his arrest, is likely to cause a great deal of collateral destruction in its own right. In this case the victim will be American journalism.

The most serious of the charges against Manning is the capital offense of “aiding the enemy.” (Team Obama has made it clear it won’t seek the death penalty, but a life sentence is possible.) The enemy that the prosecution has in mind is not Wikileaks or the global public but Al Qaeda; because this group had access to the internet, the logic goes, they could read Manning’s disclosures just like everyone else.

The government does not have to prove Manning’s conscious intent to help Al Qaeda, but must only meet the squishier standard of proving the defendant had “specific knowledge” that the terrorists might benefit from his cache of documents.

If this charge sticks, it will be a serious blow to American journalism, as it puts all kinds of confidential informants at risk of being capital cases. A soldier in Afghanistan who blogs about the lack of armoured vehicles – a common and very public complaint from the ranks in the Iraq War – could be prosecuted for tipping off the Taliban. [Continue reading…]

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