QOTD: Richard Nixon
No, not those hideous homophobic slurs. (You can read all about those here.) This is a different quote.
The “aiding the enemy” charge in the Manning case was based on military law, and it is not directly applicable to leakers in other parts of the government or to reporters and publishers. But the theory on which it was based has echoes in the more general espionage laws.
Until recently, its leading proponent was Nixon, who mused on the matter in a meeting in the Oval Office the day after The Times published the first installment of its reports on the Pentagon Papers.
“That’s treasonable,” he said to an aide, “due to the fact that it’s aid to the enemy and it’s a release of classified documents.”
Makes you feel all warm inside, doesn't it?
Here's more from Adam Liptak on how the First Amendment is eroded every time a presidential administration decides to "reinterpret" it in order to protect itself from exposure.
The federal government is prosecuting leakers at a brisk clip and on novel theories. It is collecting information from and about journalists, calling one a criminal and threatening another with jail. In its failed effort to persuade Russia to return another leaker, Edward J. Snowden, it felt compelled to say that he would not be tortured or executed.
These developments are rapidly revising the conventional view of the role of the First Amendment in national security cases. The scale of disclosures made possible by digital media, the government’s vast surveillance apparatus and the rise of unorthodox publishers like WikiLeaks have unsettled time-honored understandings of the role of mass media in American democracy.
This is so even where the government was the nominal loser. Consider the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who dodged a legal bullet on Tuesday, winning an acquittal on the most serious charge against him: that releasing government secrets to the public amounted to “aiding the enemy.”
But a dodged bullet is still a bullet.
The military judge in Private Manning’s case ruled last year that there was no First Amendment problem with the government’s legal theory. Providing classified information for mass distribution, she said, is a sort of treason if the government can prove the defendant knew “he was giving intelligence to the enemy” by “indirect means.”
The verdict thus means only that military prosecutors did not prove their case. The legal theory stands, and it troubles even usual critics of unauthorized disclosures of government secrets.
“It blurs the distinction between leakers and spies,” said Gabriel Schoenfeld, the author of “Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law.” He said the government might have lost a battle but made headway in a larger war by “raising the charge and making it seem plausible.”
Something similar happened in 1971, when President Richard M. Nixon failed to stop the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court’s ruling allowing The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish the papers is often said to be a high-water mark in the annals of press freedom.
But like the Manning verdict, the decision represented a shift in the understanding of the First Amendment.
“The American press was freer before it won its battle with the government,” Alexander Bickel, the Yale law professor who represented The Times in the case, wrote in his classic 1975 book, “The Morality of Consent.”
“Through the troubles of 1798, through one civil and two world wars and other wars, there had never been an effort by the federal government to censor a newspaper by attempting to impose a prior restraint,” Professor Bickel wrote. “That spell was broken, and in a sense, freedom was thus diminished.”
Worse, from the perspective of the news media, the victory in the Pentagon Papers case was distinctly limited and helped shape the Manning prosecution.
“A majority of the Supreme Court not only left open the possibility of prior restraints in other cases but of criminal sanctions being imposed on the press following publication of the Pentagon Papers themselves,” Floyd Abrams, who also represented The Times in the case, wrote in a new book, “Friend of the Court.”
According to a 1975 memoir by Whitney North Seymour Jr., who was the United States attorney in Manhattan in the early 1970s, Richard G. Kleindienst, a deputy attorney general, suggested convening a grand jury in New York to that end. Mr. Seymour said he refused. A grand jury was then convened in Boston, but it did not issue an indictment.
It's not all about laws. It's also about norms. And when the executive branch decides to challenge the common understanding of the First Amendment, it is forever changed, even if the law does not follow. These are matters of consensus and belief as much as they are laws. And we've lost that consensus on the meaning of the First Amendment under these last two administrations. It's hard to imagine how we'll ever get it back.
Update: None of this is to say that the government isn't also zealously pursuing its desire to hobble the free press in the courts as well. They're leaving no stone unturned:
A New York Times journalist whose claim he shouldn't have to testify in a leak prosecution was rejected, 2-1, last month by a federal appeals court panel asked Friday that the full bench of that court rehear the case.
Lawyers for national security reporter James Risen made the request in a petition filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond and covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
"The Panel Opinion conflicts with every other court of appeals to have decided these issues. Thus, investigative reporters in this Circuit are now the only ones without any protection at all in criminal prosecutions, and consequently, prosecutors will have unfettered access to information about their confidential informants," Risen's attorneys declare in their request to have all 15 4th Circuit judges consider the issue.
The strongly-worded decision eviscerated the notion of a reporter's privilege—at least one created or recognized solely by the federal courts.
However, it also put the Obama Administration in an awkward position. Just days after the Justice Department issued new guidelines seeming to back away from prior intrusions on the work of journalists, prosecutors obtained a ruling that set back the rights of reporters' to resist such inquiries. The case also created the possibility that the Obama Justice Department could wind up arguing against the press in a Supreme Court fight over reporter's privilege.
It's remarkable how often words don't match actions with our government these days. In any number of areas. I guess it's done to assuage critics and give those on either side of an issue a way to argue their position. Something for everybody.