May 8, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) This week, Chelsea Manning proposed a model bill to increase government transparency—from the jail cell she inhabits for exposing government crimes. On Wednesday, before releasing the bill, she wrote an op-ed for The Guardian. She said:
“The US needs legislation to protect the public’s right to free speech and a free press, to protect it from the actions of the executive branch and to promote the integrity and transparency of the US government.”
On Thursday, she revealed her 31-page proposed bill to do just that. It is called the National Integrity and Free Speech Protection Act. As Manning wrote on Wednesday, foreshadowing her legislation,
“We need to create a media ‘shield’ law with teeth and substance that creates an effective federal privilege for communications between a journalist and her sources, preventing the government from compelling testimony from the journalist and to protect the documents, records and other information created by the journalist and the actual communications between the journalist and her sources.”
Manning has spent her time in prison researching Freedom of Information Act policy and hopes to shift the legal advantage from government prosecutors to journalists. She notes in her op-ed that the “federal privilege” for journalists she calls for “…should be in effect unless the government can prove with clear and convincing evidence that very clear and dangerous circumstances should merit an exception.”
Further, as Manning lists in her annotations to the bill, the government should have “to prove that the intention and motive of the accused in transmitting or communicating sensitive documents or information was to harm the government or someone else.”
According to the Guardian, Jesselyn Radack—a DOJ whistleblower and current member of the Government Accountability Office—views Manning’s bill as an attempt to “tie together law reforms intended to promote transparency and revisions to criminal laws that have been used ‘so aggressively and overzealously to punish whistleblowers.’”
Manning was harshly prosecuted under the Espionage Act (among other vague laws) for revealing the unethical and violent tendencies of the United States military in foreign wars. Though she was spared the worst charge of “aiding the enemy,” she was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013.
The Espionage Act, passed in 1917 to silence critics of World War I, has been used by Barack Obama in a record number of cases. He has been called by one of his targets, journalist James Risen, “the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.” From the State Department to the Pentagon, CIA and NSA, those who speak out against government misconduct are swiftly and viciously attacked.
As Manning said in her op-ed:
“These changes would go far – but certainly not all the way – toward ensuring that future citizens under future administrations can continue to be able to question and criticize their government without fear of being publicly humiliated and prosecuted by their government.”
Though it is unclear whether or not Manning’s bill will make it to Congress (let alone be approved), the symbolic gesture of her effort demonstrates how dire the state of freedom of expression has become. If nothing else, that a woman penalized for telling the truth and informing her fellow citizens must call for transparency from a jail cell is a poetic commentary on the ever encroaching authoritarian, American state.
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