Manning Charged with Capital Offense, Death Penalty Unlikely

Bradley Manning in civilian clothes, before solitary.

There’s been lots of hubub since the government’s new charges against Bradley Manning, the army information specialist suspected of leaking diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, included a capital offense.

What isn’t making the headlines but is vital to quelling the hysteria is the fact that the Army, prosecuting in this case, has said that they will not seek the death penalty. According to a post on Wired’s Threat Level blog, the death penalty will not be sought, but “the convening authority ultimately decides what charges to refer to court-martial and whether to impose the death penalty.”

In other words, the prosecution doesn’t issue the punishment. So while they aren’t seeking the death penalty, it is still possible that Manning could be executed for his actions.

But while all the conspiracy theorists are freaking out, the rest of us can probably sit tight and have faith that the government (probably) wouldn’t execute somebody for burning a few CDs (if the RIAA was prosecuting, though, it might be a different story).

It’s important to note that the news charges come in the midst of Julian Assange’s extradition fiasco in England. A British court recently ruled to extradite Assange to Sweden to be investigated for sex crimes he’s been accused of. Assange has filed an appeal, which could take months.

The link between the new charges and the extradition hearing is in the possibility that Assange, if extradited to Sweden, will immediately be sent by Swedish authorities to the United States to face charges similar to Manning’s. The new charges against Manning include “aiding the enemy,” which would seem to imply that Julian Assange is the enemy – a very pointed message. The charge, however, reads like this:

ADDITIONAL CHARGE I: VIOLATION OF THE UCMJ. ARTICLE 104.

THE SPECIFICATION: In that Private First Bradley E. Manning, U.S. Army, did, at or near Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq, between on or about 1 November 2009 and on or about 27 May 2010, without proper authority, knowingly give intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means.

In this sentence, the important phrase is “through indirect means.” While it’s not totally clear, these indirect means could be Assange himself, meaning that Assange is not the enemy , but that the enemy was able to access the information after Assange posted it.

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