Bradley Manning's acquittal today on the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, may not mean much in terms of his freedom—he could well spend the rest of his life in prison anyway. But that specific decision still has huge implications for the nation. A sample of pro and con views:
- Great decision: A guilty verdict on the charge would have been disastrous, writes Fred Kaplan at Slate. "By this logic, any published criticism of an American war, or of US foreign policy generally, could be interpreted as 'aiding the enemy' if copies were found in enemy hands." Wouldn't that make stories about Abu Ghraib traitorous? Manning did violate military conduct, as he himself has admitted, and will serve his time accordingly. But he has insisted that he never set out to deliberately aid al-Qaeda. "The military court’s assent on that point was wise, beneficial for free speech, and for the country."
- Horrible decision: The court "seriously erred," writes John Yoo, author of the Bush administration's rationalizations for harsh interrogations, in the National Review. Manning had to know "that posting anything on the Internet would make it available to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and world-wide." He leaked the information anyway and put US lives at risk. The law is clear on the point: "Manning committed the crime of aiding the enemy, and he is lucky to escape the death penalty."
- The long view: So is Manning really a traitor? Check back in 50 years, suggests Andrew Cohen at the Atlantic. "Manning is unlike almost every other criminal sentenced to life in prison" in that everything about his case is still evolving. "All of these issues, all of these conflicts, all of these uncertainties, interacting with each other in ways we have only just begun to comprehend, are themselves a continuing testament to Manning's conduct—to the choice he made when he broke the law for a cause he considered just." His public story might be nearly done, but "his history is not yet written."