Alexa O’Brien

Negative Manning Decision and the Future of Investigative Journalism

imagesLittle more than few hours ago, a critical ruling was handed down by Judge Denise Lind in the Bradley Manning UCMJ prosecution ongoing at Fort Meade. The decision was on based on this motion by the defense seeking dismissal of the “Aiding the Enemy” charge, among others in the prosecution.

To make a long, even if sadly predictable, story short, the motion was denied by Judge Lind and the charge will proceed to determination on the merits. This is, to be sure, a nod to the prosecution (which is actually the standard in such motions for directed verdicts during trials; that is the facts are taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the government). It is also, obviously, a blow to the defense, although undoubtedly an expected one for defense attorney David Coombs. There is a very outside chance of a silver lining I will discuss below.

Julie Tate at the Washington Post sets the table:

The motion to dismiss the charge was filed July 4 by Manning’s civilian defense attorney. He argued that the government had failed to show that Manning “had ‘actual knowledge’ that by giving information to WikiLeaks, he was giving information to an enemy of the United States.” He said the government did introduce evidence “which might establish that PFC Manning ‘inadvertently, accidentally, or negligently’ gave intelligence to the enemy,” but that this was not enough to prove the most serious charge against him, known as an Article 104 offense.

On two separate occasions, Lind, an Army colonel, had questioned military prosecutors about whether they would be pursuing the charge if the information had been leaked directly to The Washington Post or the New York Times. Each time, the prosecution said it would. That troubles advocates for whistleblowers, who fear that the leaking of national defense information that appears online, as it inevitably does, can be construed as assisting the enemy.

If convicted of aiding the enemy, Manning, an intelligence analyst who served in Iraq, could face life in prison.

That describes the motion and the stakes as to Manning. Julie’s article also gives more particulars on the denial this morning, and is worth a read. For a tick tock, please see the continuously good coverage by Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake.

But as enormous as the stakes are for Bradley Manning, the enterprise of investigative journalism is also on trial, even if in an indirect manner.

Yet another journalist who has tirelessly, and superbly, covered the Manning prosecution, Alexis O’Brien, has written at the Daily Beast, the stakes for investigative journalism are also life and/or death in the face of the security/surveillance state. Citing the in court, and on the trial record, compelling testimony of Professor Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School, Alexis related:

In a historic elocution in court last week, Prof. Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, told Lind that “the cost of finding Pfc. Manning guilty of aiding the enemy would impose” too great a burden on the “willingness of people of good conscience but not infinite courage to come forward,” and “would severely undermine the way in which leak-based investigative journalism has worked in the tradition of [the] free press in the United States.”

“[I]f handing materials over to an organization that can be read by anyone with an internet connection, means that you are handing [it] over to the enemy—that essentially means that any leak to a media organization that can be read by any enemy anywhere in the world, becomes automatically aiding the enemy,” said Benkler. “[T]hat can’t possibly be the claim,” he added.

Benkler testified that WikiLeaks was a new mode of digital journalism that fit into a distributed model of emergent newsgathering and dissemination in the Internet age, what he termed the “networked Fourth Estate.” When asked by the prosecution if “mass document leaking is somewhat inconsistent with journalism,” Benkler responded that analysis of large data sets like the Iraq War Logs provides insight not found in one or two documents containing a “smoking gun.” The Iraq War Logs, he said, provided an alternative, independent count of casualties “based on formal documents that allowed for an analysis that was uncorrelated with the analysis that already came with an understanding of its political consequences.”

Those really are the stakes in the, now, not all that new age of digital journalism. When the prosecutors in the Manning trial, upon direct questioning by Judge Lind as to whether they would still prosecute Manning if his leaks had been delivered straight to the New York Times or Washington Post, it had to be a wake up call for traditional media. Or so you would think. But, really, the outrage has been far greater over the James Rosen/Fox subpoena that could, and arguably should, be considered relative peanuts.

But, Yochai Benkler is right as to the import of the consideration as to Wikileaks in the Manning case.

In closing, the one slim and thin ray of limited hope from today’s ruling by Denise Lind: If I were Lind and cared at all about the ultimate verdict on Pvt. Bradley Manning, I too would have made this ruling. Why, you ask? Well, because a dismissal on the motion would have been the equivalent of a directed verdict on the law and would be far easier to overturn on appeal than a decision on the merits that the government has not met its burden of proof. Is this possible; sure, it certainly is. Is this likely; no, I would not make any substantial bets on it.

Hedges NDAA Indefinite Detention Decision Stayed By 2nd Circuit

As much as I, and most who care about Constitutional protections and Article III courts still having a function in balance of power determinations, the recent 112 page ruling by Judge Katherine Forrest in SDNY (see here and, more importantly, here) had fundamental issues that made review certain, and reversal all but so.

The first step was to seek a stay in the SDNY trial court, which Judge Forrest predictably refused; but then the matter would go to the Second Circuit, and the stay application was formally filed today.

Well, that didn’t take long. From Josh Gerstein at Politico, just filed:

A single federal appeals court judge put a temporary hold Monday night on a district court judge’s ruling blocking enforcement of indefinite detention provisions in a defense bill passed by Congress and signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier issued a one-page order staying the district court judge’s injunction until a three-judge panel of the court can take up the issue on September 28.

Lohier offered no explanation or rationale for the temporary stay.

Here is the actual order both granting the temporary stay and scheduling the September 28 motions panel consideration.

This is effectively an administrative stay until the full three judge motions panel can consider the matter properly on September 28th. But I would be shocked if the full panel does anything but continue the stay for the pendency of the appeal.

DOJ Files Appeal: Further Thoughts On Hedges and The Lawfare/Wittes Analysis

Last night (well for me, early morning by the blog clock) I did a post on the decision in the SDNY case of Hedges et. al v. Obama. It was, save for some extended quotations, a relatively short post that touched perhaps too much on the positive and not enough on the inherent problems that lead me to conclude at the end of the post that the decision’s odds on appeal are dire.

I also noted that it was certain the DOJ would appeal Judge Forrest’s decision. Well, that didn’t take long, it has already occurred. This afternoon, the DOJ filed their Notice of Appeal.

As nearly all initial notices of appeal are, it is a perfunctory two page document. But the intent and resolve of DOJ is crystal clear. Let’s talk about why the DOJ is being so immediately aggressive and what their chances are.

I woke up this morning and saw the, albeit it not specifically targeted, counterpoint to my initial rosy take offered by Ben Wittes at Lawfare, and I realized there was a duty to do a better job of discussing the problems with Forrest’s decision as well. Wittes’ post is worth a read so that the flip side of the joy those of us on the left currently feel is tempered a bit by the stark realities of where Katherine Forrest’s handiwork is truly headed.

Wittes makes three main critiques. The first:

So put simply, Judge Forrest’s entire opinion hinges on the idea that the NDAA expanded the AUMF detention authority, yet she never once states honestly the D.C. Circuit law extant at the time of its passage—law which unambiguously supports the government’s contention that the NDAA affected little or no substantive change in the AUMF detention power.

Secondly:

Second, Judge Forrest is also deeply confused about the applicability of the laws of war to detention authority under U.S. domestic law. She does actually does spend a great deal of time talking about Al-Bihani, just not about the part of it that really matters to the NDAA. She fixates instead on the panel majority’s determination that the laws of war do not govern detentions because they are not part of U.S. domestic law. Why exactly she thinks this point is relevant I’m not quite sure. She seems to think that the laws of war are vaguer and more permissive than the AUMF—precisely the opposite of the Al-Bihani panel’s assumption that the laws of war would impose additional constraints. But never mind. Someone needs to tell Judge Forrest that the D.C. Circuit, in its famous non-en-banc en-banc repudiated that aspect of the panel decision denying the applicability of the laws of war and has since assumed that the laws of war do inform detention authority under the AUMF. In other words, Judge Forrest ignores—indeed misrepresents—Al-Bihani on the key matter to which it is surpassingly relevant, and she fixates on an aspect of the opinion that is far less relevant and that, in any case, is no longer good law.

Lastly, Ben feels the scope of the permanent injunction prescribed by Forrest is overbroad:

Judge Forrest is surely not the first district court judge to try to enjoin the government with respect to those not party to a litigation and engaged in conduct not resembling the conduct the parties allege in their complaint. But her decision represents an extreme kind of case of this behavior. After all, “in any manner and as to any person” would seem by its terms to cover U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan.

First off, although I did not quote that portion of Ben’s analysis, but I think we both agree that Judge Forrest pens overly long and loosely constructed opinions, if the two in Hedges are any Continue reading

Chris Hedges et. al Win Another Round On the NDAA

You may remember back in mid May Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, Kai Wargalla, Birgetta Jonsdottir and the US Day of Rage won a surprising, nee stunning, ruling from Judge Katherine Forrest in the Southern District of New York. Many of us who litigate felt the plaintiffs would never even be given standing, much less prevail on the merits. But, in a ruling dated May 16, 2012, Forrest gave the plaintiffs not only standing, but the affirmative win by issuing a preliminary injunction.

Late yesterday came even better news for Hedges and friends, the issuance of a permanent injunction. I will say this about Judge Forrest, she is not brief as the first ruling was 68 pages, and todays consumes a whopping 112 pages. Here is the setup, as laid out by Forrest (p. 3-4):

Plaintiffs are a group of writers, journalists, and activists whose work regularly requires them to engage in writing, speech, and associational activities protected by the First Amendment. They have testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2).

At the March hearing, the Government was unable to provide this Court with any assurance that plaintiffs’ activities (about which the Government had known–and indeed about which the Government had previously deposed those individuals) would not in fact subject plaintiffs to military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2). Following the March hearing (and the Court’s May 16 Opinion on the preliminary injunction), the Government fundamentally changed its position.

In its May 25, 2012, motion for reconsideration, the Government put forth the qualified position that plaintiffs’ particular activities, as described at the hearing, if described accurately, if they were independent, and without more, would not subject plaintiffs to military detention under § 1021. The Government did not–and does not–generally agree or anywhere argue that activities protected by the First Amendment could not subject an individual to indefinite military detention under § 1021(b)(2). The First Amendment of the Continue reading

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