Like all conspiracies, there is likely less here than meets the eye
I say this is merely the “least terrible” because, unlike simply charging a person with publishing classified material in the public interest, conspiracy would theoretically require some sort of active collusion between the publisher and the leaker. If Assange say, explained to Manning how to smuggle the files out, that might weigh in favor of a conspiracy charge.
But that line is less clear than it seems. The government could argue, after all, that Wikileaks, by advertising the fact that they publish secret information, was actively soliciting it and encouraging leakers to commit crimes. That may seem reasonable, but it’s not, because reporters, on some level, make their interest in secret government information known simply by being reporters, or by being the type of reporter whose beat involves matters of national security. What counts as “conspiracy” under such circumstances? If a source offers a reporter information both know to be secret, has the reporter engaged in conspiracy by agreeing to receive it?
While at first glance, this seems less disastrous for the First Amendment and a free press than charging Assange under the Espionage Act, in actuality, the slippery slope is only the slightest bit less steep.
Commenter Mithras comes in on a somewhat darker note, noting that conspiracy
requires two things: (1) an agreement and (2) an overt act by one of the parties to the agreement, in this case, presumably Manning. The government will only need to induce Manning to testify that Assange asked him to steal the data. Given the amount of pressure that the government is bringing to bear on Manning, that will be trivial.
I predict Assange will die in prison, sooner or later.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
Yglesias points to this piece by Atul Gawande on solitary confinement. You should read it. Also, go watch Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dustan Hoffman.
The treatment of Manning is disgraceful. Solitary confinement is just another form of torture, after all, and here we are doing it without even a ticking-time-bomb to hoist up as justification.
Assange’s predicament is better than Manning’s – for the moment –though still far from good. That the American government would attempt to prosecute a foreign journalist for publishing state secrets is bizarre and deeply troubling. Freedom of the press is evaporating before our eyes, and yet the press barely murmurs in its own defense. Half their murmuring is spent musing over what constitutes a Real Journalist. Obama’s administration is to blame for the inhumane treatment of Manning and for the absurd attempts to take down Assange; and for a plethora of other civil rights abuses. I can no longer feel anything but disdain for this administration. And the press is complicit.
At a certain point, it’s hard to know what to say anymore about all of this, except that it feels at times like something very intangible and yet very precious is slipping through our fingers and that once we lose it we will never find it again. Often when Americans speak of Freedom and Liberty they do it in terrifically vague terms, more for the sake of nationalism or brash patriotism than because of anything terribly concrete or meaningful. But there is something terribly and profoundly meaningful about freedom, true freedom, the kind this country has actually never been very good at establishing, built as this nation was upon the backs of slaves.
Still, there has been a kind of freedom here that was new to the world and that is largely foreign to us now, and will be yet more foreign to our children and perhaps unrecognizable to theirs.
I cannot predict the future, and I count that as a blessing.
P.S. I don’t find Assange to be at all a sympathetic figure; if he is guilty of the charges against him in Sweden then he should face the penalties for those charges. I’m also not at all certain of his motivations or scruples. In other words, my support for the exposure of state secrets is separate from my support of Assange in particular, and the same goes for the principle of freedom of the press. Similarly, I do think Manning – if found guilty – should face some sort of punishment. There is no reason to believe that the military should not enforce its own rules. One can both appreciate the exposure of these secrets and believe that Manning was not, in fact, acting as a whistleblower. If he were, there would have to be something much more damning in the leaks than anything we’ve seen. But his pre-trial punishment is ludicrous.
Also, I think that more transparent states will always be stronger than more secretive ones. My support for WikiLeaks is born out of a belief in the potential goodness of America, and of its relative goodness compared to many of its rivals. I think a transparent America will always be stronger than a secretive China.