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Government Responsible for Perception WikiLeaks Aided Enemies, Argues Defense in Bradley Manning’s Trial

Professor Yochai Benkler. Image by C. Stoeckley.

Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler, a scholar who wrote a widely cited paper that examined how WikiLeaks fits into what he calls the networked fourth estate, took the stand to testify in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, determined he was qualified to testify as an expert on the networked fourth estate and to share his views on the nature of WikiLeaks and how it is a legitimate journalistic organization.

The government objected to him being qualified as an expert, but the judge said the scope of his expertise went to developing technology and news ways of communicating and how WikiLeaks fit into this development. It also objected to testimony on how WikiLeaks was viewed generally when it released the information Manning is charged with disclosing and on United States government reactions to the organization’s publishing of the information.

The defense responded to the objections by pointing out that, in the evidence showing Osama bin Laden sought copies of documents published by WikiLeaks, bin Laden actually asked for the documents because the government’s “rhetoric against WikiLeaks [made] them appear to be an enemy.” That rhetoric is what drove “the enemy to go look at WikiLeaks.”

Bin Laden did not want copies to necessarily use for planning attacks because of the “actual publication of information,” according to the defense. He wanted to see what had been responsible for these allegations that WikiLeaks’ publishing of documents would be helpful to America’s enemies and so he asked to see copies of military incident reports released as the Afghanistan War Logs and copies of US State Embassy cables.

Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, told the judge this is important because it shows “how a journalistic organization is basically and especially in this country” changed from “being a legitimate journalistic organization to being a terrorist organization based upon the response of the government.”

The defense’s position, Coombs explained, is that “anyone looking at WikiLeaks prior to the charged releases, including the 2008 document produced by the Army Counterintelligence Center (ACIC) [on WikiLeaks as a possible threat], would have viewed WikiLeaks as a legitimate news organization.” Only arguments questioning that begin “after the releases happen and the government’s ultimate response.” [cont’d]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."