The Manning Verdict and the Rule of Law

The Manning Verdict and the Rule of Law August 23, 2013

I was a bit shocked at the relatively lenient sentence that the military court handed down to Bradley Manning. He got 35 years, but could be eligible for parole in as little as ten years with good behavior and credit for time served. The government was asking for 60 years, so Manning is probably a bit relieved by it. But the prosecution and the verdict raise very troubling issues, as Glenn Greenwald put it in a tweet:

“Obama admin: we aggressively prosecute those who expose war crimes, and diligently protect those who commit them.”

That’s been the story from the start. Every whistleblower who has revealed the government’s illegal activities, including torture and illegal surveillance, has been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Everyone who engaged in those crimes has been protected by the Obama administration from any liability. They’ve steadfastly refused to file criminal charges against them, as required by federal law and the UN Convention Against Torture, and prevented every court challenge against them through the use of the State Secrets Privilege. Ben Wizner of the ACLU gets it exactly right:

“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system. A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability. This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

But the executive branch under both Bush and Obama has become, for all practical purposes, lawless. It has succeeded in subverting the Bill of Rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers, our treaty obligations and the rights of all of us. More importantly, it has succeeded in making itself immune to all legal challenge. We may exchange presidents every few years, but the branch they lead is now, for all practical purposes, an institution without boundaries on what it may do to us.

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