As was predicted in this space on numerous occasions, the United States Army has brought a laundry list of new charges against alleged traitor Pfc. Bradley Manning of Wikileaks fame. And this time they’ve included the big one.
The Army on Wednesday filed 22 new charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of illegally downloading tens of thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents that were then publicly released by WikiLeaks, military officials told NBC News.
The most serious of the new charges is “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense that could carry a potential death sentence.
Pentagon and military officials say some of the classified information released by WikiLeaks contained the names of informants and others who had cooperated with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, endangering their lives.
Earlier this year I engaged in a discussion with Ed Morrissey on his show about the most significant news stories of 2010 and which ones would roll over to play a big role in 2011. This story was my top pick, not just for the potential of more and more high profile revelations from Wikileaks, but for the eventual fate of young Mr. Manning and the political fallout which could come from it.
The “aiding the enemy” charge should come as no surprise to anyone, and in fact we had predicted it would come down to treason last winter. Despite the poo-pooing and endless protestations of some of Manning’s most vocal and frequently comical defenders, there is one object lesson here which can not be repeated often enough: the U.S. Military has zero sense of humor when it comes to things like this.
Assuming for the moment that this winds up in a conviction – and the Army is certainly acting like they’re playing a pretty solid hand at this point – the situation only becomes more explosive and holds the potential to be a huge thorn in the side of the Obama administration for months or years to come. Aiding the enemy during a time of war is generally considered one of the surest paths to a firing squad for obvious reasons, but it will leave the President in a sticky position.
If the military decides to drag Manning out back and shoot him – a distinct possibility – a significant portion of Barack Obama’s base will be in an uproar. They tend to be opposed to the death penalty in general, for starters. But Manning has also become something of a folk hero on the Left, allegedly helping – albeit indirectly – Julian Assange to “stick it to the man” and expose the various perceived evils of the American government. Allowing him to be executed would be a huge black eye for Obama with his base.
But if he steps in and commutes the sentence – assuming there is a legal mechanism for him to do so – then he will be seen as undercutting his own military establishment and substituting his judgment for their established practices and discipline. (Not to mention earning the tag of “going soft on traitors,” always a sure winner in an election year.)
Of course, the Army could let Obama off the hook and simply send Manning to Leavenworth for the rest of his natural life, but that’s not a great option either in terms of the political optics. Manning’s cheerleaders are already complaining about the “horrific” conditions he’s being held under and it’s only going to get worse after his conviction. (He might even lose his cable TV, library and newspaper privileges and private exercise yard.)
If convicted on the Big Count, Manning will never, ever be able to be transferred into the general military prison population and will, in all likelihood, spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. Of all the scoundrels in legal history, traitors are probably the most unpopular with the enlisted rank and file. Dumped into a large crowd, Manning’s safety would be virtually impossible to assure. And that would leave the President with a “folk hero” of the Left locked up under the same – or worse – conditions than he’s in now for the rest of his time in office. This would be a burr under Obama’s saddle which would never go away.
It’s been a long and winding road, but it looks like we may be coming to the end of it. The Army moves at their own pace, as they should, but if they’ve filed charges now they probably feel like their case is just about ripe for presentation. Look for a court martial date to be announced in the coming weeks or months.
UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that prosecutors have taken the death penalty out of play, so that’s one less thing for the White House to worry about I suppose.
The charge sheet also did not identify “the enemy” that Private Manning was accused of aiding. A military statement says that charge can be a capital offense, but the prosecution team had decided against recommending the death penalty in this case.