Michael Ratner, lawyer for Julian Assange and Wikileaks on Manning Court Martial — Australian Broadcasting Corporation Late Line — Transcript

4845244-3x2-940x627EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: To discuss the Bradley Manning case, I was joined earlier from Washington by the president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner. He’s the US-based lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Michael Ratner, welcome to Lateline.


EMMA ALBERICI: You were with him for his pre-trial testimony. Can you give us some insight into what motivated the then 22-year-old Bradley Manning to release hundreds of thousands of classified documents?

MICHAEL RATNER: It was a remarkable day in court. He went through each set of documents and articulated the reason he released them. And each one was from a sort of human rights political reason. So, for example, the collateral murder video that showed the Reuters journalists being killed on the ground, he said he just couldn’t believe the bloodlust of the American soldiers in the helicopter and that he thought people in America and around the world ought to know. Particularly that video wasn’t even classified, it was apparently just embarrassing, or maybe criminal, in terms of the people who had done the killing. The Iraq war logs, he again said what we were doing is targeting people for death rather than helping people in Iraq and he thought that the American people ought to discuss that. With the diplomatic cables, likewise. He said they indicated that our government was not being honest and straightforward, that they were fighting secret wars such as the one in Yemen. It was one of the most articulate statements that I’ve ever heard in a courtroom as to a person’s motivation as to why they did this kind of release. I was really moved to tears by it.

EMMA ALBERICI: What will the defense argue in court?

MICHAEL RATNER: We’ll see now when they get to court. We know the Government is planning to put in 150 witnesses, including some secret witnesses. The Government takes the position that even WikiLeaks itself or really any document that Bradley Manning uploaded to WikiLeaks or any documents that say WikiLeaks can’t even be disclosed in court because they’re “still classified”, although you and I can look at those documents every day. What the defense will say, we don’t know, because they’ve admitted at least to a core part of the charges. Not the most serious charges. The most serious charges will require the Government to prove that somehow this was harmful to the national defense, that it concerned the defense and that Bradley Manning had an intent to either aid the enemy or aided the enemy with knowledge. The defense will presumably argue that these documents didn’t concern the national defense, that he didn’t have any knowledge that people sitting in Afghanistan were going to go read these documents – that wasn’t his intention to do so. So it’s going to be contentious as we get into the heavier issues, particularly the aiding the enemy issue, which is very unusual. Because what the Government is saying in that case is that Bradley Manning over here is giving to a journalist, in this case WikiLeaks, but it could have been the New York Times, The Washington Post, an Australian paper, and that they’re publishing it and then somebody in Afghanistan from al-Qaeda or somebody, an enemy of the US, is reading that and therefore Bradley Manning’s indirectly aiding the enemy through a publisher or a journalist. The message that sends to whistle-blowers and journalists is really chilling and frightening. My hopes is – my hopes are that he will be acquitted on that charge and that the Government will not even go ahead with it. They should drop it. I mean, they should just drop the thing at this point. They got him on a possible 20-year sentence. What are they going ahead for?

EMMA ALBERICI: In 2010, when the documents were released to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning was working in intelligence. He’s also the son of a Navy intelligence analyst. One imagines then that it’s going to be hard for them to argue that he didn’t understand the threat to national security that he posed by releasing these state secrets?

MICHAEL RATNER: When you say that, there was a whole number of newspapers and others said, “Oh, you know, WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, blood on their hands, traitor,” etc. In fact, there’s been no evidence that there was damage done – nobody killed, nobody had a (inaudible). I mean, it doesn’t seem that they really did cause damage, to quote the national security. Were they embarrassing? Yes. Did they show criminality on the part of my own government? Yes. They show that they were behind – involved in a torture centre in Iraq and other things. My view, what ought to be on trial here – what ought to be on trial is the people who committed the crimes that were revealed by Bradley Manning. That’s the accountability we need.

EMMA ALBERICI: Very specifically I’d like you to speak to the issue of the marine who is expected to testify in court against Bradley Manning. This is one of the 22 Navy SEALs, we understand, who was part of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan. Now we understand the witness will say that he found WikiLeaks material at bin Laden’s home, the suggestion being that Bradley Manning’s actions could well have compromised the capture of the world’s most wanted man.

MICHAEL RATNER: You know, I think it’s very prejudicial to Bradley Manning. The New York Times published part of the Iraq war logs, so did The Washington Post. We don’t know what else was on those computers, assuming this is a correct story. We don’t know what else was on, so why is it that they’re going after either WikiLeaks or Bradley Manning? They do this – this happens all the time with newspapers. They publish material they get from leaks, people all over the world read it. It seems to me that that’s always a risk you take when you’re a newspaper journalist and a publisher. But to say someone should be criminally indicted because someone in Pakistan – in this case, the Government claims Osama bin Laden is reading these cables, whether from WikiLeaks or the New York Times or The Washington Post, just doesn’t make any sense. Here’s a man who leaked this material because he wanted the American people to debate what was happening in the way the US was carrying out wars. Obviously people read. But is that a reason for holding back the documents? I don’t think so. You have to also understand there’s been no claim here that there was any harm caused by these documents.

EMMA ALBERICI: If his motivation was indeed to expose the misconduct of Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, then presumably he could’ve done that and sparked the debate you mention without the need to release 700,000 classified documents.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well I’m trying to figure out what you’re getting at. Somebody had to get them released. He went up the chain of command. No-one cared about it. He even went to The Washington Post and the New York Times. They weren’t willing to do it. I mean, the way you make change is by revealing information that American people can see. My government classifies 75, 80 million documents a year. These were at a low level. They were classified as secret. It seems to me that at that level, the idea that you wouldn’t reveal them, especially ones that reveal crimes by our government, as a way of getting some way into the secrets of the way this US Government is conducting war, seems to me just critical.

EMMA ALBERICI: The point is that the documents we’re discussing relate to everything from the financial crisis to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as what the administration simply thought of its counterparts around the world. I mean, arguably, Bradley Manning could’ve been more judicious in what information he released, rather than put it all out there.

MICHAEL RATNER: There’s two things. One is there’s – obviously with the Iraq war logs and the Afghan war logs, those aren’t what you’re really addressing. Those are out. You’re talking about the State Department diplomatic cables which were secret level, not any higher than that and revealed, as we’ve talked about, lots of secrets that should’ve been revealed – the secret war in Yemen, efforts – a case that I was trying to prosecute in Spain, a torture case against the administration that the administration, both administrations went there to try and stop that. Yes, the argument is made about being more judicious. But the fact is no-one was harmed in the sense of being injured by any of these documents. And what I would really say to that is the – the question and the focus ought to be, rather than on Bradley Manning or WikiLeaks being more judicious, it ought to be on the crimes that they revealed and the accountability of the Government officials who were involved in those. Instead everybody uses words like, oh, judicious. In fact, of course, most of the names that could’ve caused any problem were taken out.

EMMA ALBERICI: So just to clarify, do you expect the defense to argue that Bradley Manning was in fact naïve to the consequences of his disclosures, that he had no idea whatsoever that the material could end up in the hands of the likes of al-Qaeda?

MICHAEL RATNER: I would say that you need something more than they could be read. You need knowledge that they would be read. And that’s the judge’s belief. I don’t think they’ll be able to prove that high of standard, but in fact the standard I think and will be found I think ultimately in the Appeals Court to be higher. I think you’re gonna have to intend to have wanted to aid the enemy for that charge to stand. What you’re seeing now is the dilution of the law of aiding the enemy. It was always assumed that you would have to have the intention to aid the enemy. What you’re seeing in America right now is the lowering of that standard so they can get Bradley Manning, send a message to other soldiers: “You give any secret document to a journalist, we’re gonna charge you with aiding the enemy because you know that an enemy is going to read it, somewhere, somewhere in the world.” Well that’s not the law, it shouldn’t be the law. That’s the law in this trial court. But my view is you have to intend to aid the enemy and that was the law up until this judge said, “Oh, no, you don’t have to intend it, it’s enough if he knew.” I don’t think that charge will ever be upheld. If it is, every journalist who has a source in the military, as hard as they are to get already, they will become extinct. I think that’s what my government wants. They don’t want anybody whistle-blowing about hypocrisy, criminality or corruption in the military or anywhere else.

EMMA ALBERICI: You are the WikiLeaks lawyer in the United States. Tell us what you think the implications of Bradley Manning’s trial are for the future of Julian Assange?

MICHAEL RATNER: I think the implications are the way in which they are, I would say, persecuting Bradley Manning. Not just asking for the 20 years he could get by what he’s pleaded, but by going for the life sentence is an indication of the sledgehammer they’re using against whistleblowers and journalists like Julian Assange. So I think in terms of the United States and its view about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and of course what’s been put on the public record, I think they’re really after him and the implications are that they’re going full steam ahead on Bradley Manning when they could of stopped a while ago and just gone into a sentencing phase and I think that indicates the way in which they will treat Julian Assange. The other implication that has come out clearly at the trial in Bradley Manning’s statement is that he was not solicited or persuaded to do what he did by WikiLeaks or Julian Assange or others at WikiLeaks that he is not sure whom he spoke to. And that’s a very important statement because the United States has insisted for a long time that Julian Assange solicited, is a co-conspirator, etc. of Bradley Manning. At Bradley Manning’s statement he was very clear: “I did this on my own,” he said. “I was not persuaded to do it by anyone. I did it as a matter of conscience.” So that part is important. To the extent that gets repeated again at trial, that will be important for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. But as I said, the thing that’s also important is the gross way in which my government is going after Bradley Manning.

EMMA ALBERICI: Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr says he doesn’t believe Julian Assange is the subject of a US extradition effort. Do you have any proof otherwise and do you have any reason to believe that representatives of the Australian Government would also be aware of what you might know?

MICHAEL RATNER: Let me ask you, are there ostriches in Australia? Because if there are, Carr is an ostrich with his head in the ground and can’t look around and see what’s going on. What’s going on here is a two and a half or more than that – two and a half-year grand jury, numerous witnesses called in front of it, it’s investigating WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, there’s been subpoenas for material on WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, as recently as two months ago in March, the State Department said, “We’re continuing our investigation.” Our inquiries into this matter have led us to believe that it’s more likely than not that there’s an indictment of Julian Assange. Why Carr is saying that, what’s the benefit for it is only for him to think about, but when I think about it what’s surprising to me is you have an Australian citizen here, and perhaps because Australia doesn’t really want to protect their own citizen, they’re trying to say, “Oh, there’s no problem for Julian Assange.” In fact, that’s flatly contradicted by everything I just said, including the Stratfor email which was hacked from a company, a private intelligence company that said that there’s a sealed indictment against Julian Assange. I can tell you this: if I were Julian Assange, the last place I would go to is the United States or a place that would send me to the United States.

EMMA ALBERICI: Michael Ratner, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.

MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you very much.