Bradley Manning has been sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. Military prosecutors had asked for sixty years, out of a possible ninety; his lawyer, David Coombs, had asked for “a sentence that allows him to have a life.” Manning is twenty-five years old now. A thousand two hundred and ninety-four days, about three and a half years, will be subtracted from his sentence—time served plus a hundred and twelve days to penalize the government for treating him in an illegally abusive way while he was in detention. These numbers are out of proportion; this sentence, given all we know about Manning and what he did (and what was done to him), is a strikingly harsh one.
Manning gave hundreds of thousands of classified war logs and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. He also gave them a video, filmed from an Apache helicopter, of American forces firing on people in the streets of Baghdad with what Manning, according to his testimony, took to be heartbreaking blitheness. He was already pretty torn up, hardly more than twenty years old, realizing he was gay, wondering if he should have been born a woman, in the middle of a war zone. He thought, his lawyer argued in the trial, that he might save someone, or everyone. However one measures that choice, one of the scandals of this court martial was how the government cast aside Manning’s own gestures of contrition. He offered to plead guilty to enough counts to put him in prison for twenty years. The prosecutors pressed on, insisting on trying him under the Espionage Act and for “aiding the enemy.” (I’ve written about that decision before.) On that last count, which was novel in this sort of case and would have set a disastrous precedent for press freedom, Manning was acquitted. But the Espionage Act charges are broadly damaging, too.
On Saturday night, Michael Grunwald, a Time correspondent, deleted a tweet that he said was “dumb”; a spokesperson for the magazine noted in an e-mailed statement that it had been posted on Grunwald’s “personal twitter account” and “is in no way representative of Time’s views,” and called it “offensive.” “He regrets having tweeted it,” the spokesperson added. Those responses are apt. This is what Grunwald had tweeted:
I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.
People say reckless things on Twitter. Grunwald’s defenders pointed this out, and some of his more extreme critics demonstrated it, too, when they tweeted about how they couldn’t wait to write a similar defense regarding the drone strike that hit him. If dumbness were the only issue, we’d be done. But this one deserves being talked about a bit more, less because Grunwald still seems a bit oblivious as to what was wrong with what he said, than because his statement encapsulated something hazardous about the current moment—for journalists, for anyone who cares about civil liberties, and for the political culture more generally. And there’s also the issue of the lack of civility on Twitter—but we already knew that.
What does the National Security Agency consider a small or a big number? The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman has a report based on documents the paper got from Edward Snowden about an N.S.A. audit that found two thousand seven hundred and seventy-six “incidents” in 2012 in which it broke its own rules about spying on Americans, either accidentally or on purpose. That is seven times a day, which sounds less like a slip than a ritual. But to call those violations frequent, according to the agency, would be to misunderstand the scale of its operations: “You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” a senior N.S.A. official told the paper. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.” We spy so much that the math gets hard; even thousands of privacy and legal violations can’t really be held against us.
President Obama speaks on Martha’s Vineyard. Photograph by Rick Friedman-Pool/Getty.
Inside Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque. Photograph by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty.
Inside al-Iman mosque in Nasr City. Photograph by Ed Giles/Getty.
Outside Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque. Photograph by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty.
Pictures from Cairo the morning after security forces started shooting at protesters showed men carrying ice into the Al-Imam mosque. Inside, there were bodies that hadn’t yet been buried or officially counted—the government says the death toll is five hundred and twenty-five, but no one expects it to stay there. A Reuters correspondent counted two hundred and twenty-eight bodies in the mosque, where “medics pushed burning incense sticks into blocks of ice covering the bodies and sprayed air freshener to cover up the stench.” Times reporters saw the bodies of young people who appeared to be in their early teens, and noted that the ice “was melting as household fans played over the makeshift morgue.” Some of the bodies it was meant to keep cold appeared to have been badly burned before dying. When the police and soldiers moved in to break up what had been a peaceful encampment, the tents of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other opponents of last month’s military coup caught on fire.
“The world is watching what is happening in Cairo,” the White House said in a statement midday on Wednesday. It is, indeed, hard to turn away from the scenes of killing in the city’s squares, where this morning Egypt’s security forces broke up sit-ins, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, protesting the military coup that removed Mohamed Morsi from power in July. According to reports from the scene, the shooting began quickly. The first, likely incomplete, count from Egypt’s Ministry of Health was close to two hundred and thirty-five dead and over two thousand injured—numbers that will likely be fought over and examined. But who is looking to the White House on this one, and to whom is it even speaking?
From Cairo, there were pictures of bodies crowding makeshift morgues and people carrying the wounded in a panic out of the squares. As in an earlier assault on protesters, there were reports of sniper wounds. “At least one protester was burned alive in his tent,” the Times reported. “Some of the dead appeared to be in their early teens, and young women assisting in a field hospital had stains in the hems of their abayas from the pools of blood covering the floor.”
Does President Obama understand why what people have learned, thanks to Edward Snowden, about the National Security Agency makes them angry? Maybe not. In a press conference on Friday, Obama said that his Administration would be “forming a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies …. So I am tasking this independent group to step back and review our capabilities—particularly our surveillance technologies.” One of the tasks of this “outside… independent group” would be to figure out “how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used.”
What has Edward Snowden done for Barack Obama? According to the President, who spoke at a press conference on Friday, all Snowden did was rush him; he was already going to look and see if “some bolts needed to be tightened up” on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs before Snowden gave any documents to the Guardian or the Washington Post. Obama just would have done it quietly, getting a few things straight. Instead, here he was, coming out with a list of proposed reforms that somehow directly touched on programs and previous lies exposed by the leaks, and being asked by Chuck Todd if he considered Snowden a patriot.
“I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” Obama said—quite a statement about a man he has never spoken to, and who has not yet been convicted of anything. “My preference—and I think the American people’s preference—would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful, fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place.” Maybe “Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response,” and without him “it would have been less exciting and it would not have generated as much press.” But absent the passion, minus the risks, Obama was sure that if he had “sat down with Congress and we had worked this thing through,” the civil-liberties concerns would have been met in the same way—sometime or other.
Not every suspension-of-service notice for an e-mail company comes with a link to a legal-defense fund. Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Lavabit, whose clients, reportedly, have included Edward Snowden, made it sound today as though he could use the help. “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,” Levison wrote in a note posted on his site.
I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on—the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
As Kevin Poulsen and others have pointed out, our collective experience has prepared us to guess what is going on here: Levison got either a national-security letter “or a full blown search or eavesdropping warrant.” In the weeks since the Guardian and Washington Post first began publishing stories with Snowden’s documents, the picture of the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance practices that’s come together is different from the one most everyone held before we’d ever heard Snowden’s name. And it has left the Administration’s explanations of what it does and doesn’t do looking pretty spotty, and at times just false.
Who, or what, is Abortion Barbie? That is the name that Erick Erickson, of redstate.com, wants to attach to Wendy Davis, the Texas State Senator who filibustered a bill that restricted abortion rights in her state. The bill ultimately passed, and will have the effect of putting many women in Texas hundreds of miles away from safe, legal clinics where they can end a pregnancy. “It sums her up perfectly,” Erickson said:
All the nation knows about Wendy Davis is that she is ignorant of the horrors of Kermit Gosnell, wears pink shoes, and filibustered legislation to save the innocent in Texas.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” Major Nidal Hasan said as his court-martial opened in Texas today. He is representing himself. He has gone through two legal teams and is on his second judge. He seemed to touch on a common illusion: that putting a gun in one’s hand brings clarity. The day he began firing, in November, 2009, at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center in Fort Hood, he brought only chaos and pain. Some of the soldiers there thought, before he tried to kill them, that they knew him, and that he was their colleague, and he shot some of them as they tried to get away or shield others. He had decided, he told the court, that he was in the wrong Army: he said he was one of the mujahideen—“imperfect soldiers trying to form a perfect religion,” according to ABC. He killed thirteen people, and wounded more than thirty, including Sergeant Kimberly Munley, a small policewoman (her colleagues called her Mighty Mouse) whom he shot three times, in both legs and a hand. But she was firing, too, and she and others injured him enough for her partner to get his gun, and stop the killing.