On Point: The Manning Conviction

by Austin Bay
July 31, 2013

Following his conviction this week on at least five counts of espionage and several lesser charges, including fraud and theft, U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning will now do hard time in prison.

In certain circumstances, spies deserve capital punishment. Several decades in jail strikes me being as Manning's criminal due, however.

Treason rates the death sentence, but Manning didn't commit treason. In fact, he beat that rap.

Manning admitted he gave Julian Assange's Wikileaks organization at least 700,000 pages of classified U.S. documents, as well as numerous classified videos. The massive document release included classified State Department cables and military information related to operations in combat zones. So prosecutors charged Manning with "aiding the enemy," an act of treason. The prosecution argued that Manning knew the information he released would aid al-Qaida.

Proving treason involves proving "specific intent." Prosecutors had to prove Manning specifically intended to aid specific enemies. They failed to make that case.

Manning's theft and espionage, in fact, were rather unspecific. He stole information by the megabyte, with scant selectivity and little reflection. He looked for secrets addressing topics that assured sensational media coverage.

Theft, however is still theft; violating military oaths and ironclad laws protecting classified information are military crimes.

Leaking unspecific classified information, especially trainloads of it, can damage U.S. defenses.

I think it already has. Manning's filched documents provide everyone -- friend, foe or bystander -- with a detailed look at American information gathering, information assessment and decision-making in the sensitive realms of foreign policy and defense.

Liberals forever extoll "soft diplomacy," the goodnik mission of diplomats in contrast to the "hard diplomacy" soldiers wield. Diplomacy requires able, careful diplomats. Yet Manning's leaked State Department cables provide our adversaries with a highly granular, candid and often personal portrait of a generation of U.S. diplomats. The cables reveal how specific diplomats operate, what they seek to accomplish and with whom they talk.

Though Manning's leaks did not place American diplomats in immediate mortal danger (a treasonous act), the leaks damaged their ability to conduct diplomacy, both near and long term. The private first class clearly does not understand that diplomacy is America's first line of defense.

Manning claims he became "disillusioned" with a foreign policy focused on "killing and capturing people" -- people, he said, not terrorists. So he spied and leaked information that would damage the agencies and agents conducting American foreign policy.

Manning's passionate defenders argue this damage serves the greater good, but they bear no personal responsibility for protecting American lives and vital interests even if they benefit from that protection.

Excusing Manning's crimes demonstrates a narrow, to the point of benighted, understanding of foreign policy in a dangerous, complicated world. "Burning" U.S. diplomats doesn't simply damage U.S. foreign policy, it hinders constructive, stop-the-killing diplomacy globally.

Several State Department cables were classified in deference to the sensitivities of foreign diplomats. One quotes a senior Chinese official bluntly describing North Korea's regime as crackpot. Is an honest comment, very likely an incremental step toward diplomatically reducing the threat of nuclear war in East Asia, worth keeping secret? Manning and Assange exposed it, but their vision of greater good is rather criminally self-serving.

Eventually an adversary will use insights gained from analyzing Manning's stolen documents to conduct operations that threaten American lives and livelihoods. Delayed treason, however, isn't a crime.

Manning, demoted to the rank of convict, has earned his next military tour. Before his trial, the military kept Manning in its Joint Regional Correctional Facility. The JRCF incarcerates pretrial defendants and prisoners with short sentences (five years or less). It's located at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. -- but don't confuse it with its famous Leavenworth neighbor, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. The "DB" is what Hollywood means by "Leavenworth." News media report Manning will do his stretch in a DB cell.

The U.S. Army Command and General Staff School is also located at Ft. Leavenworth. The staff school runs what joking soldiers attending it refer to as "the short course." The Disciplinary Barracks? It runs Leavenworth's "long course." Would-be spies, take note. The long course isn't a death sentence, but it is certainly no joke. 

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close