Army Private First Class Bradley Manning in handcuffs for his motion hearing in Fort Meade in Maryland June 6, 2012. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana
The most significant dispute over leaks this week is not in Washington, where Attorney General Eric Holder is under fire for the searches of journalists’ files. It’s 40 miles north in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the trial of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning begins Monday.
Manning is facing a court-martial, or military prosecution, for sending 700,000 government documents to Wikileaks. It was the “biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history,” as Reuters reported, and the U.S. government believes that makes Manning an enemy of the state.
In an unusual move, prosecutors are charging Manning under the Espionage Act, which targets conduct specifically aimed at injuring the United States, and under the military code barring “aiding the enemy,” a treasonous offense that carries a potential death penalty.
If prosecutors win, Manning will face the most severe punishment for the dissemination of information to publishers in American history. That could be a hollow victory for the United States, however, by chilling press freedoms and government accountability in the long run.