This morning, Private First Class Bradley Manning was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Already his admirers are decrying his punishment as a miscarriage of justice. Tonight there will be a pro-Manning rally in Times Square.
But Manning is lucky he did not receive life, which he should have. The sympathy for this “troubled young man” is emblematic of a post-accountability society. No one, it seems, is to be held responsible for their actions any longer. Instead, blame is shifted to a difficult childhood, bullying, loneliness, or—my personal favorite—“the system.” In Manning’s own words, he was “dealing with a lot of issues.”
Three weeks ago, a military judge correctly found Manning guilty of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, the international movement of leakers founded and led by Julian Assange, who is currently hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid deportation to Sweden where he faces charges of sexual assault. Manning was found guilty on twenty of twenty-two counts, including six violations of the 1917 Espionage Act. But he was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy.”
This was a mistake.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had accused the government of seeking “to establish the dangerous precedent that leaks to the press could be equated with ‘aiding the enemy.’” What does this term actually mean? According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, anyone who “without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly” is guilty of aiding the enemy.
However, in the Manning prosecution, the focus was on the wrong enemy. Manning might not have directly aided al Qaeda, the enemy in question in the recent prosecution, but he certainly aided WikiLeaks. Wikileaks is a movement that views itself as an enemy of the United States, so why shouldn’t U.S. law see it in the same light? WikiLeaks is an anarchist movement dedicated to, in Assange’s own words, “the total annihilation of the current U.S. regime.” It does not by any stretch of the imagination, constitute “the press,” as the ACLU claims.
In my view, Assange’s political ideology is an intellectual descendant of the nineteenth century anarchist thought of figures like Mikhail Bakunin, who once wrote, “History tells us that while small States are virtuous because of their feebleness, powerful States sustain themselves only through crime.” In his 1866 “Revolutionary Catechism,” Bakunin called for “[a]bsolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state.”