Bradley Manning is going to jail for a very long time. That much is a certainty, after the US Army private was found guilty yesterday of 17 charges and had previous guilty pleas accepted on three others. The only question is whether he is going to jail for the rest of his life or for some lesser amount of time. The only good news for Manning, and for all of us, is that the government failed to make its case on its biggest reach, legally speaking: the charge of aiding the enemy, which can (but did not in this case) carry the death penalty.
The state’s case on aiding the enemy was always based on the most dubious logic: 1) Manning gave the Wikileaks cables and more to the press, and 2) America’s enemies can read the press, so therefore, 3) Manning was aiding the enemy. To put it another way, the US government was arguing, in essence, that the public can never be told anything that the US government hasn’t pre-approved, lest zombie bin Laden hear about it. And if you try to tell someone something you shouldn’t, the government reserves the right to execute you.
It’s a stunningly bad legal precedent, and just the latest example of the war on whistleblowers under the Obama administration. But absurdity gets piled on absurdity when you realize that we’re not even allowed to know who America’s enemies are, lest the US government aid them by naming them.
That’s not a joke or a typo. The Pentagon, when asked if it could list the forces “associated” with the Taliban and al-Qaeda (against whom Congress authorized the use of military force in 2001), said that because “elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list.” Being named as an enemy of the United States is good for business if you’re in league with al-Qaeda, so the US government can’t even name its enemies.
This is some Old Testament stuff right here, with the Pentagon believing that it’s been granted the powers of Adam, instead of simply being asked to answer a simple administrative question. But the seriousness of this situation can’t be overstated: The US military is reserving the right to wage global war against people of the president’s choosing without telling anyone who it’s killing. It’s just another example of why congress needs to either revise or repeal the 2001 Authorization of Use of Miltary Force (AUMF), as President Obama has called for.
It’s not actually hard to guess who is at risk of drone strikes in this situation—they are presumably dark-skinned and speak one of the handful of languages of Central Asia. But if, say, Greenpeace was on the list as an “associated force,” how would we know?
As it stands now, they could tell us—but then they’d have to kill us.