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May 21, 2013 at 9:28 AM

The Obama administration’s war on whistle-blowers

The Obama administration is compiling a dismal record on whistle-blowers, which we editorialized against today, including this appalling fact: more people have been charged with leaking information about U.S.-sponsored torture than have been charged with torturing. (see Steve Coll’s profile of CIA John Kiriakou.)

The same goes for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program in the U.S. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer’s profile of N.S.A. whistle-blower Thomas Drake ends with this telling quote:

“The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.”

The administration’s overzealous pursuit whistle-blowers was on display yesterday, with a disturbing Washington Post story about full, creepy surveillance of a reporter’s working relationship with a State department security adviser. The affidavit supporting the snooping describes the reporter as a criminal  “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor” (page 28) because, ya know, the reporter was doing some reporting. Such a case would be a landmark infringement on the First Amendment, justifiable because of one leak? A bizarrely disproportionate response.

That pattern was in my head as I watched “We Steal Secrets,” the WikiLeaks documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is the admitted source of the biggest leak of official secrets in history, and pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him. He faces 20 years in prison. He knew what he was doing, but like most whistle-blowers, believed the public needed to see what he saw.

Pfc. Bradley Manning

Pfc. Bradley Manning


But Manning didn’t plead to the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, akin to treason. Good, because that prosecution is based on an absurd stretch of the definition of whistle-blower.

As Kevin Gosztola, a freelance reporter who has covered the military proceedings at Fort Meade, explains, Osama bin Laden asked for, and got, some of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables leaked by Manning. Manning is essentially charged with handing cables to bin Laden, even he lost control of how the information would be used once he passed it to WikiLeaks.

According to Gosztola, the judge in the case asked, If we substitute the New York Times for WikiLeaks, would you still try Bradley Manning in the same way? The answer: yes.

What a lot of people don’t’ understand is that Manning being prosecuted for being a source,” said Gosztola. 

Manning deserves to go to prison. But the treason charge, and pre-trial confinement conditions that have been compared to torture, are part of the Obama administration’s war on whistle-blowers.




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