02 March 2011

'Aiding the Enemy'

While Julian Assange backpedals to repudiate a published interview in which he reportedly declares himself the target of a "Jewish conspiracy," Bradley Manning, the soldier who provided Assange with many of the documents now available through Wikileaks, has been charged with "aiding the enemy," an offense that carries the death penalty according to the uniform code of military justice. While the prosecution intends to seek life imprisonment for Manning, that recommendation can be overturned by whoever presides over the court martial.

According to Article 104, Manning is guilty if found to have aided or attempted to aid "the enemy" with "arms, ammunition, supplies, money or other things," or if he "knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly." Since this begs the question of the identity of "the enemy," the code refers us to Article 99. There "the enemy" is described as follows:

“Enemy” includes organized forces of the enemy in time of war, any hostile body that our forces may be opposing, such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades, and includes civilians as well as members of military organizations. “Enemy” is not restricted to the enemy government or its armed forces. All the citizens of one belligerent are enemies of the government and all the citizens of the other.
While Manning faces prosecution on the ground that information released by Wikileaks aided the enemy by identifying government agents or American allies and thus exposing them to attack, the explanatory language could well make him liable merely for having dealings with Julian Assange. How much of a reach would it be to define Wikileaks as a "hostile force," little different from a physical "band of renegades" or "rebellious mob?" The reference to "civilians," after all, needn't be interpreted collectively. The concept of enmity doesn't seem to be limited to forces or citizens attached to a belligerent.

I don't mention this to raise alarms on Manning's behalf. He stole stuff and should be prepared to answer for that, at least. But when I read that the vague language of Article 104 " denounces offenses by all persons whether or not otherwise subject to military law," I get a little alarmed for the rest of us. Maybe I shouldn't, or wouldn't if I read the law more carefully, but the anxiety is probably healthy anyway.

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