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800 years post Magna Carta: Why no equal justice for all whistleblowers?

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This week, we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta but do we really have equal justice for all? Leon Speed looks at the conflicting treatment of whistleblowers and asks whether the more powerful are still more equal than the rest.

IN LIGHT OF the Magna Carta's 800th birthday and what modern democracy is based on today, is there really equal justice for all?

Whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are wanted. Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Sterling are in gaol. John Kiriakou recently released from gaol. Thomas Drake and David Petraeus free. Free? If they all leaked classified information why are two free?

Let’s look at each case pertaining to these whistleblowers apart from the Assange and Snowden cases.

Pfc Bradley Manning:

Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning, was a private first class in the U.S Army. Manning was charged, and convicted. Although the serious charge of aiding the enemy was dropped, Manning was charged with many others — as reported by The Washington Post:

‘Manning, 25, was acquitted last month of the most serious charge he faced – aiding the enemy – but was convicted of multiple other counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, for copying and disseminating classified military field reports, State Department cables, and assessments of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.’

Manning received 35 years gaol at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Many civil libertarians were not happy, according to the Post:

‘When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate."’

Manning leaked classified documents to Wikileaks. Among the documents leaked was a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter firing on a group thought to be insurgents. Among the killed were Iraqi children and two journalists. When asked why he did it, he said that he "started to question the morality" of U.S. policy and he was happy to do the time “knowing sometimes you pay a heavy price to live in a free country”.

Jeffrey Sterling, CIA officer:

Jeffrey Sterling was a CIA officer who gave information about a secret plan to give Iran faulty nuclear details to a New York Times reporter and thus has been convicted and sentenced to 42 months gaol. Sterling was also the first man to file a lawsuit against the CIA for racial discrimination.

The lawsuit was thrown out on the grounds that it would expose government secrets. Sterling was fired not long after. Ten years later in 2011, he was arrested.

Sterling did do good things. He won an award for exposing a $32 million bogus medical charge scam when he was working as a fraud investigator for the company who sacked him immediately after he was arrested.

John Kiriakou, CIA officer:

John Kiriakou was also a CIA officer. He was sentenced to 30 months gaol. He has now been released and has recently gone on television talking about the use of waterboarding as well as other techniques used in what the U.S. government call “enhanced interrogation”.  He also discusses the use of psychiatric professionals as justification by the government to use these techniques. Watch here.

He was involved in releasing information to journalists about the use of torture to gain information from assumed terrorists and the names of some CIA officers involved — as reported by The Washington Post at the time:

‘In 2008 and 2009, Kiriakou gave a journalist the name of a CIA operative who had taken part in interrogations, according to court documents. His indictment also states that he leaked the name of a second operative and the person’s involvement with the capture of al-Qaeda operative Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, to the first journalist and to a New York Times reporter.’

Through John Kiriakous's work, the U.S. Senate has recently voted to outlaw using enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, rectal feeding, and mock executions to name a few.

The story of Magna Carta with some still more equal than others

Thomas Drake, senior executive NSA:

Thomas Drake was accused of espionage but was convicted of a misdemeanour computer violation. According to the Baltimore Sun, he received community service and probation:

‘Thomas Andrews Drake, the former NSA employee accused of felony espionage but convicted of a misdemeanour computer violation, was sentenced Friday in Baltimore's federal court to 240 hours of community service and one year's probation.

It was an abrupt end to a lengthy case that became a rallying point for both free-speech advocates and those seeking to plug media leaks. It had also threatened to imprison Drake, who was accused of retaining classified information to give to a Baltimore Sun reporter, for up to 35 years before a surprising plea deal was struck on the eve of trial last month.’

Drake took his complaints to U.S. Congress and the defence department’s inspector general before going to a reporter. He was facing 30 years gaol after being charged under the espionage act but the government could not release secret information to the courts so he was offered a plea deal — as reported by the New York Times at the time:

'“Wow,” he said. “There is a third branch of government.” He had taken his complaints about an N.S.A. technology program called Trailblazer to both Congress and the Defence Department’s inspector general before speaking to a reporter for The Baltimore Sun in 2006.

Mr. Drake was initially indicted on 10 felony counts with violating the Espionage Act and faced a possible 35 years in prison. His lawyers have asserted that the documents he shared with The Sun were not classified.

After Judge Bennett ruled that the government would have to show the jury some of the documents, prosecutors withdrew them from evidence, saying that was necessary to protect the agency’s secrets. With their case in tatters, the prosecutors agreed to a plea deal under which Mr. Drake admitted to a misdemeanour, misusing the agency’s computer system by providing “official N.S.A. information” to an unauthorized person.'

Jesselyn Radack (attorney for Edward Snowden) & Thomas Drake, whistleblower and former executive with the NSA

 

David Petraeus, retired Army General (4 star) and CIA director:

Petraeus’s "fine" was explained as $60,000 more than expected. He was fined $100,000 and received 2 years’ probation. He was not convicted of giving his biographer classified documents — eight notebooks worth in fact. He did have a long running affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

The Guardian reported on the 24 April 2015:

'But in 2012, personal affairs overtook his career when it emerged that he had been involved in a long-running affair with Paula Broadwell, a married academic and army reserve officer who had been writing a biography of Petraeus, titled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.

The affair was discovered after Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite, was sent threatening messages from an anonymous email account in May. She notified a friend who worked at the FBI, who traced the emails to Broadwell.

The affair did not become public until after the presidential election in November, when Petraeus tendered his resignation to the White House. Obama later accepted his offer of resignation.

But the saga wasn’t over. After Petraeus resigned, it emerged that Broadwell had been given a set of eight notebooks which contained classified information – including codewords and military strategy – by the general.'

Even though many people seem to get convicted for similar or less important leaks Petraeus basically gets a smack on the wrist:

'Other leaks of classified information have led to heavy sentences. Chelsea Manning, who leaked a trove of classified documents to WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years by a military court in August 2013. Stephen Kim, a former State Department official, was sentenced to 13 months in prison the same year after pleading guilty to discussing a classified report with a Fox News reporter in 2009.

Manning, Kim and Petraeus were all prosecuted under the same act — Title 18 of the US code, known as the Espionage Act.'

After sentencing it has been discovered that 34 very powerful and prominent people wrote letters in defence of Petraeus to judge Keesler. Tony Blair, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, William McNulty (CEO Team Rubicon Global), Joseph Lieberman (retired senator) and U.S. Senator Lyndsay Graham to name a few.

'I know that General Petraeus has been embarrassed and has quietly suffered in ways that most people could not fully appreciate....... I respectfully request that the court strongly consider a sentence without confinement service in the interest of justice.'

According to a television show called Watching The Hawks, Senator Graham once said this about Edward Snowden:

“I don’t think he’s a hero. I believe he hurt our nation. I hope we’ll chase him to the ends of the earth, bring him to justice”

Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote:

‘General Petreaus recognises the error of his actions and has admitted his guilt. As the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a senior commanding officer of the U.S. Army he understands the importance of protecting classified information.’

Tony Blair had to remind the judge who he was and wrote:

‘I am the former Prime Minister of the UK holding that office between 1997 and 2007...as I saw for myself on many occasions (he) has the ability to inspire trust and affection amongst those he leads.’

The two players who were lightly dealt with seem to be the ones who are higher positioned in the organisations. One would think that they would know better thus require a longer sentence or at least a sentence. As Dianne Feinstein put it, Petraeus understands the importance of keeping classified information classified. I don’t think he does especially after he lied to investigators. He now has a good job and works as Chairman for KKR Global Institute.

So the Magna Carta has turned 800. It was put in place to make everybody in the kingdom, including the monarchy, accountable to the law by the people and not to a law by the monarch. The original focused on the rights of barons and free men but not serfs or unfree labour who were slaves or subjects made to work not of their free will.

Happy Birthday Magna Carta because 800 years on, to me, it looks as though it has done what it was set out to do in the first place. Protect those at the top.

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