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Truth and Consequences

In this July 30, 2013 photo, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. Few Americans in living memory have emerged from obscurity to become such polarizing public figures _ admired by many around the world, fiercely denigrated by many in his homeland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The judge in Bradley Manning’s court martial has acquitted him of the charge of “aiding the enemy.”

He still faces plenty of jail time for stealing secret government files and handing them over to Wikileaks three years ago, but it’s the aiding the enemy charge that had journalists freaked out because it is such a sweeping law – and potentially carries the death penalty. I’ll read the key part:

“Any person who without proper authority, knowingly gives intelligence to, or communicates with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment.”

CBS Legal analyst Andrew Cohen says in Manning’s case, merely posting stolen files, like that video of a U.S. military helicopter gunning down two reporters in Baghdad – was considered helping al Qaeda.

“Not by giving information directly to al Qaeda, but by giving information to Wikileaks, which then put it on the Internet and made it available to al Qaeda,” says Cohen.

But to get back to this idea that posting on the Internet information such as video of a mistaken helicopter attack constitutes “aiding the enemy” on grounds that terrorists have Internet connections — by that logic, if those two reporters killed by the U.S. helicopter had lived to report on the attack, and posted their story, they too might have been accused of aiding the enemy!

As Ben Wizner of the ACLU explains, “This is the first time in the history of the country that government has brought what amounts to a treason charge against someone who was leaking to the press in the public interest.”

We still have not been told of any damage to American military operations caused by what Manning did. That itself doesn’t excuse him from the consequences of stealing those documents.

But he testified that his motive was simply to reveal the truth — that he felt the American people had a right to know that there was far more collateral damage in Iraq and Afghanistan than we were led to believe.

And based on what we know now, I have to say that if nothing else, it might have helped us better understand why the people we were liberating didn’t always appreciate our help.

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