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The New York Times & Their Coverage of Recent ‘Aiding the Enemy’ Ruling in Bradley Manning’s Trial

The military judge in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning decided this week to not acquit Manning of “aiding the enemy.”

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind found the prosecutors in the case “could reasonably tend to establish that the accused actually knew he was dealing with the enemy and actually knew that by sending such information to WikiLeaks with the intent that it be broadcast to the public, he was knowingly providing intelligence to the enemy.”

All the prosecutors had to do to prevent the judge from acquitting Manning was to present “some evidence” that the judge would have to consider in “a light most favorable to the prosecution.” That was the standard for reviewing the defense motion for a “directed verdict” that had been filed because the defense argued there was no evidence that Manning had aided any of America’s enemies, particularly Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The New York Times sent a reporter to cover and reported on July 18:

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, said the government had provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Private Manning knowingly gave information to certain enemy groups, like as Al Qaeda, when he passed hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2009.

I took issue with what I considered two clear errors in that paragraph and sent a letter to the Times‘ Public Editor that also delved into some other issues I had with the coverage.

Hello,

I do not know if you are the person to contact if there is a correction that should be considered, but, as someone who has been a credentialed member of the press pool covering the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, I am confident in saying there are at least two glaring errors in the Times’ coverage of the trial today.

Erin Banco wrote:

“The judge, Col. Denise Lind, said the government had provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Private Manning knowingly gave information to certain enemy groups, like as Al Qaeda, when he passed hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2009.”

Manning did not pass documents to WikiLeaks in 2009. He passed them in 2010.

More significantly, the judge did not rule that the government had “provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Private Manning knowingly gave information to certain enemy groups.” What she ruled is there was “some evidence” that Manning had “aided the enemy” because prosecutors had presented “some evidence” during the case.

What could probably be more clear in the story is that the judge was not asked to drop the charges. She was asked to issue a “directed verdict” where she would rule “not guilty.” Essentially, she was urged to acquit Manning of the charge because the defense argued the prosecutors had presented no evidence that Manning had “aided the enemy.”

Considering the case presented in “a light most favorable to the prosecution,” the judge concluded that, in fact, the defense request needed to be denied because the prosecutors had not failed to present evidence related to the charge. However, that does not mean prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning had given information to enemy groups. And such language suggests one could expect the judge to find him guilty, since most Americans are likely familiar (based on consumption of entertainment) that a judge can only convict someone if the evidence has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

It would actually be more accurate to say the judge declined to acquit Manning because the judge was not being asked to drop charges.

I do not blame Erin Banco for making these mistakes. I have not met or introduced myself yet, but it appears this is one of the first stories Banco has written for the Times. It’s quite a task to have someone who has not been covering the trial all along attempt to accurately cover the trial in appropriate detail at this stage. Had the Times sent Banco to the trial on the first day so Banco could cover the entire trial, the article may not have had errors that should have been fact-checked and the written story may not have been confusing.

I’ll conclude with this note: I have publicly and sometimes regularly taken the Times to task for not being here every day of the Trial. I believe someone should have been here every day. I have been heavily critical because of the Times’ history as a reputable establishment news outlet, one with a large audience and a great capability of keeping the public informed on news stories that are of importance.

It is good to see someone from the Times here today, however, I am in the unfortunate position of wondering if it was even worth it because I do not know if the story published on the “aiding the enemy” ruling helps readers better understand the trial or simply fogs readers’ understanding.

At about 9:30 AM on July 19, I received a reply from the Office of the Public Editor that read:

Photo by Niall Kennedy under Creative Commons license

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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."