Chelsea Manning Is Free but Whistleblowers Still Face Jail — And the Scorn of the Mainstream Media

May 20th, 2017 - by admin

Janine Jackson / Counterspin & Max Anderson / Human Rights Watch – 2017-05-20 00:03:49

Chelsea Manning Is Free —
But Whistleblowers Still Face Prison

Janine Jackson / Counterspin: Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting

(May 19, 2017) — Human Rights Watch is glad that Chelsea Manning is free. A statement from the group’s General Counsel’s office notes that Manning’s “absurdly disproportionate” 35-year sentence for passing classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, commuted by Barack Obama on his last day in office, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, which they warn still stands ready for use against the next potential whistleblower.

The Act was intended to punish those who leak secrets to foreign governments, but the US government is increasingly keen to turn it against those who give information to journalists.

Critically, those prosecuted under the Act can’t argue they intended to serve the public interest, and prosecutors don’t have to prove that national security was harmed at all, much less that it outweighed the public’s right to know.

So as Manning walks free after seven years and 120 days (or “just seven years,” as USA Today had it — 5/17/17), some of it in solitary confinement, it’s worth remembering that corporate media did virtually nothing in support of her clemency, even though her revelations were the basis for countless media reports — including revelations about a 2007 US military attack in Iraq that killed two Reuters journalists.

As FAIR analyst Adam Johnson (1/18/17) noted, it’s a strange day when the US president is to the left of the country’s editorial pages. But even though her conviction posed and poses a chilling threat to all media sources who seek to expose government wrongdoing, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran no editorials supporting Manning’s release.

The Washington Post ran three op-eds calling for leniency for Roman Polanski vs. none for Manning, but maybe the best reflection of things: The US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s review into the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures testified that no instances were ever found of any casualties resulting from the releases.

But on her sentence commutation, the outraged tweet “How many people died because of Manning’s leak?” came from none other than the New York Times‘ Judith Miller, whose front-page promotions of bad intelligence paved the way for the Iraq War.

Chelsea Manning is Free, Others Still at Risk
Max Anderson / Human Rights Watch

(May 17, 2017) — Chelsea Manning is free — finally.

On his last day in office, President Obama commuted Manning’s absurdly disproportionate 35-year sentence for passing classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010. The documents included the Collateral Murder video and the Afghan War Logs, which revealed the grim reality of US war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Manning has served 7 years and 120 days, and the law that enabled her draconian sentence remains unchanged and ready for use on the next leaker who may be a whistleblower. The law is the Espionage Act of 1917, which US authorities increasingly rely on to punish people who leak classified information to the media, and not to foreign governments as it was originally intended.

Those prosecuted under this law still cannot argue their actions were motivated by the public interest in their defense. Nor does the Espionage Act require prosecutors to prove national security was harmed as a result of the leak, much less that the harm outweighed the benefit of the public’s right to know.

Allowing for a public interest defense is necessary in any democratic society where government activity is often shrouded in secrecy. It is the only way to combat wrongdoing in the parts of the government subject to the least amount of oversight.

The UN’s specialist on freedom of expression and access to information, David Kaye, has slammed the Espionage Act, calling it “antiquated, ill-suited to contemporary national security issues, a relic of the wartime hysteria of a century ago subject to government overreach and abuse.”

Cracking down on leaks — and potentially on whistleblowers as well — is unfortunately in fashion. The United Kingdom’s Law Commission recently recommended whistleblower protections be weakened in the 1989 Official Secrets Act, potentially criminalizing the reporting of leaked information that could be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The UK government has since distanced itself from the report, and the Law Commission, suffering heavy criticism, reopened the consultation period.

The application of the Espionage Act in Manning’s case was unjust, but its impact was exacerbated by the lack of protection for transgender people in US prisons.

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia, a good time to reflect on the maltreatment Manning suffered as a transgender woman in a military prison for men.

Human Rights Watch has reported on abuses that transgender women face in US immigration detention and called on the US Congress to bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from holding transgender women in men’s detention facilities.

We should also not forget the other challenges she will face in accessing health care as a trans person.

Manning’s story should serve as a wakeup call for governments to reform whistleblower protections and fulfill their human rights obligations toward incarcerated transgender people.

Max Anderson is the Coordinator in the General Counsel’s Office at Human Rights Watch

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