Here’s a back-and-forth from Wednesday’s proceedings in the case against Pvt. Bradley Manning that should be troubling for journalists.
Colonel Lind, the judge, asked a prosecutor a hypothetical question: If Private Manning had given the documents to The New York Times rather than to WikiLeaks, would he face the same charges?“Yes, ma’am,” said the prosecutor, Capt. Angel Overgaard.
Journalists will often try making a distinction between their outlets and WikiLeaks, which, some say, is more of a clearinghouse for documents or perhaps a middleman between a source and news organizations. They may point out that their news organizations put raw material in context, call for comment, and weigh the government’s concerns over publishing sensitive material.
But whatever journalists may think, the prosecutor in Manning’s case sees no difference between a source’s relationship with a major newspaper and with WikiLeaks. So presumably, a source providing information to the Times could similarly be prosecuted for indirectly “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense.
Some have acknowledged the slippery slope before when it comes to leveling charges against Manning or WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“If he can be charged, maybe the Washington Post and the New York Times and others can be charged,” Congressman Ron Paul told me in Dec. 2010, as some political leaders were calling for Assange to be charged under the Espionage Act. News outlets, such as the Times, were not only publishing articles following WikiLeaks’ release of State Dept. cables — allegedly provided by Manning — but also the cables themselves.
Several reporters spoke to me back then about the possible implications for journalists if the U.S. prosecuted WikiLeaks, all the more relevant given yesterday’s proceedings.