Larry Flynt

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Who’s the Criminal?

What is the crime for which Bradley Manning faces life in prison after being tortured by his own government for two years? The Army private first class is charged with having “aided the enemy” in violation of the Espionage Act. But who is the “enemy” he aided, other than his fellow Americans, who were alerted to the lies of their government thanks to his heroic actions?

Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, called the charge “a scary proposition.” He warned that it could be leveled against any whistleblower exposing government wrongdoing. “Right there, you will silence a lot of critics of our government, and that’s what makes our government great—that we foster criticism and through it make changes. This is a very serious charge, not just for my client, but for all of us in America.”

In a rare public statement, Coombs condemned how Manning was treated during his nine months in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. “Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched into our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time,” Coombs declared, noting that Manning had been “shackled during limited exercise periods and was at times not allowed his clothing and glasses.” He emphasized, “Not only was it stupid and counterproductive; it was criminal.”

It is the U.S. government that acted criminally in punishing someone who sought to do his duty by exposing government wrongdoing. The charges against Manning stem from his allegedly passing a video and a trove of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks, which not only posted the material but also shared it with the New York Times and two of Europe’s most prestigious newspapers. All of the published reports—the so-called Afghan War Diary and Iraq War logs—contained information that the editors correctly thought the public had a need and right to know.

In performing this public service, the New York Times was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Part of the Bill of Rights, it stipulates that Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of the press or free speech, both of which were almost indistinguishable when the Constitution was adopted in 1787.

The “press” that the Founding Fathers referred to was not the huge corporate conglomerates of today but rather anyone who had the paper, ink and glue to post a leaflet on a wall. The Declaration of Independence was just such a broadsheet. It would seem a website like WikiLeaks would be covered by the same safeguards as those pre-Internet leaflets under both free-press and free-speech grounds.

So how can it be that for exercising his fundamental rights, Manning has been imprisoned under harsh conditions designed to psychologically break him? The quick-and-dirty answer is that he is an active-duty soldier and that the military’s rigorous rules trump all others. Nonsense.

Following World War II, the U.S. government definitively demolished that argument when it conducted the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. It held individual Germans responsible for their atrocious deeds irrespective of the defendants’ claims that they were merely “following orders.”

During his deployment to Iraq, Manning—an Army intelligence analyst—came across evidence of a major U.S. war crime: a video showing his fellow soldiers firing cannons from an attack helicopter, killing a group of Iraqi civilians along with two Iraqi journalists working for Reuters. That was a blatant act of terrorism that our government claims to oppose.

Manning should have been honored for exposing criminal behavior that violated international laws originally promulgated by the United States. The real “crime” that has roused the ire of his superiors—straight up the chain of command to President Barack Obama—has been that Manning revealed the truth to WikiLeaks and the New York Times, as well as Britain’s The Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel.

The soldier should have been lauded for leaking State Department and military secrets, not stripped of his right to due process. Accused by his own government of aiding the enemy, he now faces life in prison. The reasoning must be that the free press and the democracy dependent upon it have become the “enemy” that Bradley Manning aided.

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