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New Interpretation Of Aiding The Enemy Charge Emerges In Manning Trial

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Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. Manning is charged with indirectly aiding the enemy by sending troves of classified material to WikiLeaks. He faces up to life in prison.
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. Manning is charged with indirectly aiding the enemy by sending troves of classified material to WikiLeaks. He faces up to life in prison.

Closing arguments are set to begin on Thursday in the court martial of Army Private Bradley Manning. Next week, the judge is expected to render a verdict, and the implications of that decision could be far reaching.

Manning is charged with 22 crimes, including espionage and theft of government property. He's already pleaded guilty to 10 charges under an unusual agreement, according to Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at Brennan Center for Justice.

"He's done it under a special procedure that commits him to his plea, even though the government hasn't accepted the plea, which sounds strange, but it means he will be found guilty of those charges and could spend as much as 20 years just on those charges. Then on top of that there's the potential that he'll be convicted of additional charges including aiding the enemy," she says.

Goitein says that charge alone is troublesome. Defense attorneys have motioned on three occasions to have the charge dropped. However, the judge, Col. Denise Lind, refused, saying that she agreed with prosecutors who say Manning was aware terrorists would have access to the leaked documents simply because they were published on the Internet. Goitein suggests that's a broad interpretation of the law.

"If you look at the aiding the enemy charge, it was meant for the circumstance in which somebody goes behind enemy line and literally passes information into the hands of the enemy. The Internet has done away with the intent requirement in the statute. People have made some very good points about whether the statute would be constitutional if you eviscerated the intent requirement," she says.

In other words, as some civil libertarians have suggested, publishing information on the Internet that the government deems sensitive could in the future be considered treason.

"I'm hopeful that the judge will realize the broader ramifications of a guilty ruling on the aiding the enemy charge. The consequences of that go far beyond this case and could be very chilling to free speech and certainly to any would be whistleblowers in the military community," says Goitein.

In her ruling on the motion to dismiss the charge of aiding the enemy, Judge Lind said that although the evidence was enough to keep the charge in place, it did not necessarily mean she will find Manning guilty of the offence when she renders her verdict.

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