Yesterday Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking intelligence to WikiLeaks, was slapped with 22 new charges from the U.S. Army. The most serious of these charges is the capital offense of "aiding the enemy." From the very beginning of the Bradley Manning saga, though, critics have said the case against him has been pretty shaky--more about intimidation than due process. So what are the actual chances of conviction, and how seriously should we take this latest round? Luckily, between the attorney-bloggers out there and the legal experts consulted by newspapers, there's quite a bit of opinion on this topic.
Jon Shelburne a Roger Williams University law professor and a Marine Corps lawyer, told the Los Angeles Times that the new slew of charges against Manning may simply be a ploy by the Army to convince the soldier to agree to a plea deal. Shelburne also pointed out to the paper that "the charging documents did not specify what enemy Manning was alleged to have aided." He predicted that "if the case goes to trial, Manning's lawyers will probably try to force prosecutors to show what specific benefit U.S. enemies derived from the disclosure of the documents, which could be difficult."
Attorney and Outside the Beltway writer Doug Mataconis notes MSNBC's acknowledgement of the fact that, so far, no direct link has been made between Manning and Julian Assange. "This has been the case for months, despite digging by federal investigators in all directions, and it makes the probability that any charges will ever be sustained against Wikileaks, Julian Assange, or any related individuals, seem very remote indeed," he predicts. Meanwhile, the Army's prosecution has already confirmed that it won't recommend the death penalty for the "aiding the enemy charge." Still, Mataconis points out, "the ultimate decision on Manning's sentence remains with the residing military judge, who could accept or reject the recommendation."
Wired's Kim Zetter took a deeper look at the charges and noted that "at least one of the charged leaks has neither been acknowledged by WikiLeaks, nor mentioned by Bradley Manning in his online chats with Adrian Lamo--the ex-hacker who turned him in to the Army and FBI. That’s a 'United States Forces -Iraq Microsoft Outlook / SharePoint Exchange Server global address list belonging to the United States government.'" She wonders if this indicates "that investigators recovered evidence from forensic examinations of Manning’s computer following his arrest."
Finally, "throw[ing] the book at Manning," says Andrew Cohen, CBS Radio's chief legal analyst, suggests that the Army aims "not just to punish him, but also to send a message to other service members who may be tempted to do what Manning allegedly did."