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Simpich writes: "Edward Snowden is looking at a 30-year sentence if convicted on all counts. Bradley Manning could spend the rest of his life in prison. How did such a disconnect happen?"

President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign fundraiser in Denver, 05/23/12. (photo: AP)
President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign fundraiser in Denver, 05/23/12. (photo: AP)

Obama's Infatuation with the Espionage Act

By Bill Simpich, Reader Supported News

23 June 13


efore I leave town for a week to recharge and return to the Manning trial, I wanted to address the other repressive charge Manning faces besides the count of "aiding-the-enemy" – the Espionage Act of 1917.

The Espionage Act is written extremely broadly. It was originally drafted to force World War I antiwar activists to shut up. The "sedition" portion of the Espionage Act was used to imprison Eugene Debs and other activists for war protest, until the Warren Court ruled in 1969 that the government had to prove "advocacy of imminent lawless action" before someone could be arrested for agitation.

The Espionage Act was not designed to go after whistleblowers. However, since the 1969 ruling shut off its use against war protesters, the government has toyed with using it against whistleblowers.

There were three uses of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers prior to the Obama administration. The first case was that of Daniel Ellsberg. Dan Ellsberg beat the charges because it came out during the trial that Nixon's plumbers had broken into his psychiatrist's office. This revelation forced the resignation of Nixon's men Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Dean within days. Then it came out that Ehrlichman had tried to bribe Ellsberg's judge with an offer to become the FBI director. Next, it was learned that Ellsberg's phone had been tapped – and then the government could not find the record of the tap. At that point, the judge declared a mistrial because of government misconduct, and Ellsberg was a free man.

Two other leakers unconnected with popular political movements were prosecuted during the next thirty-five years, until Obama became president. Like all presidents, Obama wanted his people to leak when necessary to aid his policies, while barring his adversaries from leaking to oppose his policies. He could see from experience what happened to Nixon's plumbers who tried to stop the leaks. So he brought the Espionage Act into play against whistleblowers. With the recent indictment of Edward Snowden, eight whistleblowers have now been charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.

It has been a long time since there were true American heroes embraced by people across the political spectrum. We now have two, admired not just in America but all over the world. Edward Snowden is looking at a 30-year sentence if convicted on all counts. Bradley Manning could spend the rest of his life in prison. How did such a disconnect happen?

The use of the Espionage Act in the Manning case has a chilling effect on not just Manning and Snowden, but on free speech throughout the United States. As reported by ABC's Devin Dwyer:

The World War I-era law is broadly written and criminalizes anyone who possesses or transmits any "information relating to the national defense" which an individual has "reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation."
If WikiLeaks, which allegedly did not steal the documents, is guilty of espionage for printing them, some experts say so too might be The New York Times, U.K.'s The Guardian, and Germany's Der Spiegel, which have replicated and disseminated the materials worldwide.
Individual users of Twitter and Facebook and other social media who spread links to the documents far and wide, or even discuss the contents in public, could also technically be liable.
"One of the flaws in the Espionage Act is that it draws no distinction between the leaker or the spy and the recipient of the information, no matter how far downstream the recipient is," said American University law professor Stephen Vladeck, an expert in national security law…
In 2010, the federal government "warned all employees not to read WikiLeaks' cables or any news reports pertaining to them because the information is still classified."
Several universities around the country have also warned students who might seek careers with the federal government not to post links to WikiLeaks content or discuss the cables publicly through social media.

The impact of the historic documents released by Manning has already resulted in the stifling of free speech in America.

Will Manning face decades of prison pursuant to the Espionage Act, even though Manning can testify that he had "reason to believe" that the documents would not injure the US or aid of a foreign nation?

Will it result in the indictment of Julian Assange or other journalists for the first time in American history?

As Snowden's interviewer Glenn Greenwald asks, "Who is actually bringing 'injury to America': those who are secretly building a massive surveillance system or those who inform citizens that it's being done?" your social media marketing partner
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