Having held Private First Class Bradley Manning prisoner for nine months, under conditions tantamount to torture and beyond doubt intended to break his will, the US Army recombobulated its allegations against him on Wednesday, adding 22 counts to an already lengthy charge sheet.
As a practical matter, these changes probably don’t make a lot of difference to Manning. He’s faced a likely life sentence for nearly a year now. Since the Army’s prosecutors claim they won’t seek the death penalty provided for in one of the new counts, the consequences for him, if convicted, remain pretty much the same.
That new count — “aiding the enemy” per in Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — is really directed not at Manning, but at an assortment of other persons and parties: Wikileaks, Julian Assange, every foreign government and individual on earth … and you. And the act of filing that charge is, oddly enough, tantamount to insurrection against the United States itself.
Let’s unpack this “enemy” thing.
The power to declare war — and thereby to legally categorize a group of persons (historically on, but not necessarily constrained to, the basis of their allegiance to a particular state) as “the enemy” — is exclusively reserved, per the US Constitution, to Congress. Congress hasn’t exercised that power since 1941, and the wars it declared then have long since ended. The United States is not, legally speaking, at war. Thus the US has, legally speaking, no “enemy” to aid.
By charging Manning with “aiding the enemy,” the US Army is, in effect, attempting a coup d’etat. It is usurping Congress’s authority and claiming that authority for itself. Since the President of the United States is also Commander in Chief of the US armed forces, the Army is presumably merely the President’s instrument in this matter.
Not that executive power grabs are anything new, mind you — the Constitution has been broken in that respect for at least 150 years. The difference here is that historically executive usurpations under cover of “war powers” resembled cyclical tides: Flowing in, then receding, over fairly short periods.
The Civil War, Reconstruction and a slow fade back to business as usual. World War One, the first Red Scare, then “return to normalcy.” World War Two, the second Red Scare, and grudging reversion to the malignant but still nominally limited managerial state inaugurated in FDR’s New Deal.
This time, the tide has coursed in on us for most of a decade and shows no signs of ebbing. Not tide: Tsunami. The executive branch, led first by George W. Bush and now by Barack H. Obama, is playing for keeps. We’re long past the point where one can plausibly argue that anything short of full-on dictatorship will satisfy America’s new generation of emperors or their courtiers.
The proof of that lies not only in the fact of insurrection/coup with this charge of “aiding the enemy,” but in the logical conclusions that we can — indeed, must — draw from that charge.
Who is the “enemy?” Certainly not the (now long-deposed) regime of Saddam’s Iraq, nor the Taliban who ran (and mostly still run) Afghanistan. We can exclude these two as the designated “enemies” for two reasons.
First, not only did Congress (to the extent that the executive branch bothers even formally acknowledging that institution’s authority these days) not declare war on either of them, it specifically declared that it was not declaring war on them. If you don’t believe me, look at the “authorizations for use of force” yourself and read the “war powers reservations” sections. Recall that bills were introduced to declare war on both, and rejected.
Secondly, no one has said, with a straight face at least, that Manning intended his alleged releases of information for the eyes and ears of the Taliban, or of al Qaeda, or of whatever ragged remnant of the Ba’ath Party persists in Iraq.
On the contrary: The intended recipients seem to have been an Iceland-hosted web site, an Australian transparency activist, and the world (including the American) media and public. They (You! Me!) are the “enemy” to whom Manning allegedly disclosed the state’s embarrassing secrets.
QED, the US government considers you — whoever you are, wherever you may live, and to whatever extent you aren’t its active agent — its enemy and intends to treat you as such. Your freedom, perhaps even your very survival, depends on you recognizing this fact and acting accordingly.
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