As the military trial of Bradley Manning begins, The Daily Beast's Eli Lake has a great piece explaining how the guy who leaked 700,000-plus documents to Wikileaks has changed the way the U.S. government functions.
Manning faces the possibility of life in prison without possibility of parole for aiding the enemy. Writes Lake:
The Manning leak…ushered in a new era within the Obama administration to crack down on leakers and what they deemed the "insider threat," a term that historically referred to spies who sold or shared secrets with foreign governments. On Nov. 28, 2010, as WikiLeaks was doling out the diplomatic cables Manning leaked to selected partner news organizations, including The New York Times andThe Guardian, Jacob Lew, then Obama's director of the Office of Management and Budget, issued a memorandum (PDF) to all government agencies that generate classified information to reform systems for protecting those secrets….
Earlier this year, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser offenses in relation to WikiLeaks of mishandling information he was required to protect. But the government has continued to press its topline charges, while Manning has denied that he did his leaking to aid an enemy of the United States or in any way violated the Espionage Act. In an audio statement that surfaced in March from one of his pre-trial hearings, during which he admitted to the leaks, Manning said he was moved to disclose the information to spark a wider debate about foreign policy. He observed that a 2007 video he leaked captured from a helicopter before an air strike in Iraq showed that his fellow soldiers "dehumanized the individuals they were engaging in and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as 'dead bastards' and congratulating themselves on their ability to kill in large numbers."
"With Manning's offer of a plea bargain, which carries up to 20 years in jail, this satisfies the imperative to reinforce to those in uniform that they have a solemn responsibility to protect the national interest," said [former State Dept. spokesman P.J.] Crowley on Sunday. The former spokesman said he believed Manning harmed the national interest with his leak. But he also said the prosecution ran the risk of taking the case too far by seeking to imprison Manning for the rest of his life for the crime of aiding the enemy. "My apprehension is that as the prosecution begins to present its case tomorrow, it risks making Bradley Manning into a martyr," he said.
As Manning's willingness to plead guilty to various charges attests, he plainly broke various laws. Leaving aside the various legal issues, there's no question that Manning's actions helped force precisely the sort of conversation about how government actions that he said he was after. By helping to usher in an age of radical transparency – whether wanted or not, this is something that governments and corporations and other organizations will have to deal with – Manning has truly altered the ways in which politics, policy, and business will be conducted. As an addendum, his treatment at the hands of the Obama administration showcase how slow those in power are to understand and react to these changes except by cracking down in ways that underscore why Americans should be in favor of greater transparency.