Bradley Manning Verdict: A Preview Of A Possible Edward Snowden Trial

Many supporters of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden worry what will happen to him should he return to the U.S. to face trial, but does the Bradley Manning verdict give us any clues as to what we might expect if that happens?

The Bradley Manning trial was expected to deliver a “complicated verdict.” That’s a nice way of saying we had no idea what to expect.

Manning used to be an intelligence analyst in Iraq who collaborated with controversial whistleblower site WikiLeaks to release hundreds of thousands of U.S. military classified documents. These included diplomatic cables, war logs, information on Iraq detainees, and perhaps most damaging, video footage of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Baghdad.

He admitted to all of this, but has consistently said that his intention was not to aid enemies of the U.S. Rather, according to Manning, he just doesn’t like that the U.S. keeps secrets. Perhaps more accurately, he thinks the U.S shouldn’t do things it has to keep secret.

Some of Manning’s leaked information was damaging to U.S. military interests, but the prosecution’s accusations that the former intelligence analyst is an attention seeker and traitor don’t seem to resonate with public opinion. He has a wide base of support both here at home and abroad, and even among many of the “he’s guilty” persuasion get mixed up when you ask them “of what, exactly?”

Though his sentence isn’t handed down until tomorrow, Manning was found guilty of espionage, theft and computer fraud. He was not charged with aiding the enemy, so he’s facing a maximum sentence of 20 years. A high sentence for sure, but not life without parole.

So what does this mean for Edward Snowden, in case he is captured, deported, or willingly returns to the U.S.? Some of his supporters fear he’ll be put to death as a traitor. Slightly more serious supporters caution that at the very least, he could be held indefinitely without trial if it can be argued that he has aided terrorists in some way, and let’s be honest, it doesn’t even really need to be argued. The fed just has to say they suspect it. It’s on the books.

But the Bradley Manning trial and verdict is encouraging for Edward Snowden in a few small, but crucial ways. One is that he got a trial. Last week’s surreal moment went to Attorney General Eric Holder when he sent his Russian counterpart a memo reassuring him that Snowden wouldn’t be executed or tortured.

There was a general sense of “Really, America? Is this where we are as a nation?” and though it was a pretty disconcerting headline, the Manning trial shows us that Snowden would at least be given his day in court.

Also up for consideration is the ruling. Manning was tried in a military court martial without a jury, which, to the conspirator’s eye, would be the perfect place to absolutely throw the book at him. Army Col. Denise Lind didn’t. She convicted him on lesser charges. Again, we need to see the sentence, but you get a sense that Manning’s explanation of his behavior is at least partially accepted by authorities.

Snowden’s possible trial, whether by jury or judge, would probably yield even less in terms of consequences. It can’t be proven that he was aiding terrorists or even leaking national security secrets. He exposed a domestic government program that seemingly violates our constitutional rights. The NSA won’t be on trial along with Snowden, but can it really be argued that he’s a traitor? It’ll be easier to bust him on evading arrest.

So what would Snowden face if he comes home? It’s all speculation at this point, and indeed, the similarities and differences between his case and Manning’s are more numerous, complex and nuanced than described in this post. But it seems certain he’d at least face trial, and gauging from Manning’s verdict and eventual sentence, we might get an idea of what’s waiting for him here at home.

Don’t forget we have to keep President Obama accountable for his whistleblower promises. I don’t care if his Change.org webpage disappeared.

What do you think of the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden cases?