Pfc. Bradley Manning [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] was formally charged with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, under the Espionage Act [text] on Thursday. Manning declined to enter a plea [AP report] at the hearing. The maximum penalty Manning faces is life in prison. The government alleges that Manning transferred more than 700,000 confidential documents and video clips to Wikileaks [website; JURIST news archive], the largest intelligence leak is US history. Manning's defense argues that many others had access to his workplace computers in Iraq, he never should have been deployed to Iraq or entrusted with confidential information because he is emotionally troubled since he was barred from openly serving as a gay man, and the leaks did not hurt US national security.
The US military court referred Manning's case for court-martial [JURIST report] in February. A US Army panel of experts declared Manning competent to stand trial [JURIST report] in April. Manning's prosecution has sparked heated debate between defenders and critics. Those who support Manning's actions refer to him as courageous for acting as a whistleblower [advocacy petition] against government crime and corruption. He has been compared to famous US whistleblowers such as Frank Serpico and Daniel Ellsberg [personal websites], who leaked information regarding corruption in the New York Police Department and the Pentagon, respectively. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates [WP profile] has criticized the video [WSJ report], claiming it provides the public a view of warfare "as seen through a soda straw." He noted that public attention was not drawn to what was discovered by US ground forces following the helicopter gunfire, including AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He also said that terrorist organizations are made up of combatants who do not wear enemy uniforms. In August, lawyer Charles Lugosi [profile] wrote that Patriot Act provisions and criminal sanctions placed on whistleblowers like Manning violate the Constitution [JURIST commentary] and fundamentally challenge the legitimacy of the rule of law and American democracy. Lugosi noted that individuals, through websites and social networking, can expose modern injustice and raise the conscious awareness of the public to worthy causes and crusades.