At his pre-trial hearing last Thursday Bradley Manning, the soldier allegedly responsible for the biggest leak of state secrets in US history, pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges brought against him. He pleaded not guilty to some of the most serious charges including aiding the enemy.
During the hearing the presiding military judge asked the prosecutor if Bradley Manning would have been prosecuted in the same way if he had leaked the documents to the New York Times. The answer was yes. Currently the justice department is carrying out investigations to determine if Julian Assange and Wikileaks can be prosecuted for publishing the leaked material.
This raises a real issue for media organisations and whistle-blowers because as Glenn Greenwald wrote for the Guardian, “the theory being used to prosecute Manning would convert almost every government source for newspapers into a traitor.”
If leaking and publishing classified information that is in the public interest, as were the thousands of documents obtained by Wikileaks, leads to accusations of treason it is a real threat to the freedom of the press and freedom of information.
The Bradley Manning case will most certainly have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers who will think twice before coming forward and it is most certainly is a threat to investigative journalism and the public interest.
And however controversial the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is, it will be a dangerous step back on press freedom if the organisation is prosecuted.