US soldier Bradley Manning – suspected of secretly providing the website WikiLeaks.org with video of a US helicopter shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq – has been charged with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified material, and endangering order and discipline in the military, according to an Army statement released Tuesday.
Specialist Manning stole information on a massive scale, according to charging documents in his case. The Army alleges that Manning illegally downloaded to unsecured computer equipment more than 150,000 secret diplomatic cables, in addition to video of a classified military operation near Baghdad.
The charging documents don’t mention WikiLeaks by name. But they do allege that Manning took one cable, named “Reykjavik 13,” that subsequently was posted on the Wikileaks site.
Manning was arrested in Baghdad in early June and has been in military detention in Kuwait. Former computer hacker Adrian Lamo has said he turned Manning in after striking up an online relationship with the soldier and learning the extent of his illegal downloads.
If convicted of all charges, Manning could be sentenced to upward of 52 years in prison.
WikiLeaks last April posted the classified cockpit video from an Apache gunship on its website. The video depicted a 2007 attack against a group of suspected insurgents, and caused a media sensation due to its graphic nature – the pilots can be heard laughing and making derogatory remarks about the men they are tracking – and for the questions it raised about whether the US was doing all it could to avoid civilian casualties.
Among those killed in the gunship attack were two Iraqi employees of the Reuters news agency. An investigation of the attack site undertaken soon after the incident turned up an AK-47 rifle and other evidence that insurgents had been present, according the US military.
A Pentagon review of the incident concluded that the Apache crew acted appropriately in the attack, following the existing rules of engagement by waiting for permission from higher authorities to open fire.
WikiLeaks on Tuesday posted a message to Twitter saying that although Manning was in custody, the “trigger-happy Apache crew remain uncharged.” (WikiLeaks has never said Manning leaked it the video. The site’s software renders anonymous those who send in material, according to its founders.)
Meanwhile, some experts who track government secrecy have begun to criticize WikiLeaks, saying that it is not accurate to call the organization a “whistleblower” site.
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy in late June said on his blog that WikiLeaks routinely “tramples on the privacy of non-governmental, non-corporate groups for no valid public policy reason.”
WikiLeaks published the secret rituals of a college woman’s[delete??] sorority, Alpha Sigma Tau, just because it could, according to Mr. Aftergood. No one has charged the sorority with wrongdoing, including WikiLeaks.
Wikileaks has similarly published the secrets of Masons, Mormons, and other groups that have activities they wish to be private.
“This is not whistleblowing and it is not journalism. It is a kind of information vandalism,” wrote Aftergood, who himself documents, catalogues, and posts online vast troves of declassified government material.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.