The Dark Question

Has the US become the type of nation from which you have to seek asylum?

Four decades ago, Daniel Ellsberg surrendered to federal authorities to face charges of violating the Espionage Act. During his trial, he was allowed to go free on bail, giving him a chance to explain his actions to the media. His case was eventually thrown out after it was revealed that the government had wiretapped him illegally.

Bradley Manning, a soldier who released classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, has had a very different experience. Manning was held for three years without trial, including 11 months when he was held in de facto solitary confinement. During some of this period, he was forced to sleep naked at night, allegedly as a way to prevent him from committing suicide. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has condemned this as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the convention against torture.”

Ellsberg has argued that this degrading treatment alone should be grounds for dismissing the charges against Manning. Instead, the government has sought the harshest possible sentence. Even after Manning pleaded guilty to charges that could put him in prison for 20 years, the government has still pushed forward with additional charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violating the Espionage Act, that were intended to be used against foreign spies, not whistleblowers.

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