Why Isn’t Bill Keller Being Court-Martialed for Aiding the Enemy?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Two years ago, I wrote a long post analyzing the most serious charge in Bradley Manning’s court martial — aiding the enemy, a violation of Art. 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and 10 USC 904. I claimed in the post that someone like Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of the New York Times during the WikiLeaks era, could not face similar charges, because the UCMJ applies only to soldiers.

I was wrong.

Here is the text of Art. 104 (my emphasis):

Any person who—

(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or

(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.”

The key here is “any person.” Such broad personal jurisdiction is very unusual among the UCMJ’s punitive articles; the only other ones that use it are Art. 83 (fraudulent enlistment in the armed forces) and Art. 106 (spying). All of the other punitive articles have more limited jurisdiction, applying only to “any person subject to this chapter” (such as solicitation, Art. 82) or “any member of the armed forces” (such as desertion, Art. 85). The difference is critical, because it means that a person does not have to be subject to the UCMJ to be subject to court-martial for aiding the enemy. Indeed, both Art. 104 and Art. 2 in the Manual for Courts Martial (MCM) are explicit on that point. Here is the MCM’s explanation of Art. 104 (emphasis added):

Scope of Article 104. This article denounces offenses by all persons whether or not otherwise subject to military law. Offenders may be tried by court-martial or by military commission.

And here is the MCM’s explanation of Art. 2 (emphasis added):

(1) Authority under the code. Article 2 lists classes of per­sons who are subject to the code. These include active duty personnel (Article 2(a)(1)); cadets, aviation cadets, and midship­ men (Article 2(a)(2)); certain retired personnel (Article 2(a)(4) and (5)); members of Reserve components not on active duty under some circumstances (Article 2(a)(3) and (6)); persons in the custody of the armed forces serving a sentence imposed by courtmartial (Article 2(a)(7)); and, under some circumstances, speci­fied categories of civilians (Article 2(a)(8), (9), (10), (11), and (12); see subsection (3) and (4) of this discussion). In addition, certain persons whose status as members of the armed forces or as persons otherwise subject to the code apparently has ended may, nevertheless, be amendable to trial by court-martial. See Article 3, 4, and 73. A person need not be subject to the code to be subject to trial by court-martial under Articles 83, 104, or 106.

There is no reason, then, why Bill Keller could not be court-martialed for aiding the enemy. And indeed, for all the reasons I discussed in my post two years ago, he is no less guilty of that crime than Bradley Manning. Here are the elements of aiding the enemy via communication:

(5) Communicating with the enemy.

(a) That the accused, without proper authority, communicated, corresponded, or held intercourse with the enemy, and;

(b) That the accused knew that the accused was communicating, corresponding, or holding intercourse with the enemy.

If Manning has aided the enemy, so has Bill Keller. The crux of the government’s argument is this (see Specification 1 on the charge sheet): (1) Manning gave classified documents to WikiLeaks; (2) Manning knew that WikiLeaks would publish the documents on the internet; (3) the “enemy” — basically al-Qaeda and its associated forces — had access to the documents on the internet; (4) Manning thus indirectly communicated with the enemy. That argument, however frightening, is unfortunately far from frivolous. The crime does not require any intention to communicate with the enemy, much less an intention to harm the United States; as the MCM commentary says,”the intent, content, and method of the communication, correspondence, or intercourse are immaterial.” Nor does the crime require proof that the enemy actually received the prohibited communication: “[t]he offense is complete the moment the communication, correspondence, or intercourse issues from the accused.”

The government’s argument obviously applies to Bill Keller no less than to Bradley Manning. Indeed, in one respect, the case against Keller is even stronger than the case against Manning. Manning “communicated with the enemy” indirectly: he gave the documents to WikiLeaks; he did not post them on the internet himself. Keller, by contrast, authorized the New York Times to post Manning’s documents on its website, where anyone — al-Qaeda included — could find it. His communication with the enemy was thus direct, not indirect.

To be clear, I am categorically opposed to prosecuting anyone, Bradley Manning or Bill Keller, for “aiding the enemy” in circumstances like these. It is impossible to overstate the chilling effect the government’s argument — that causing intelligence to be posted on the internet qualifies as communicating with the enemy — will have on media freedom. But there is not simply moral equivalence between Manning’s actions and the actions of the New York Times. There is legal equivalence, as well. So if Manning deserves to be court-martialed for aiding the enemy, Bill Keller should be in the dock with him.



2 Responses

  1. I don’t know anything about the area, but I would HOPE that “knowingly” would be read into “the enemy” as well, or else grandma sending money to a Nigerian Lotto scam via Yahoo! could be courts-martialed if it turns out the recipient is Boko Haram.

  2. Um, no.  104, like 106, still requires UCMJ jurisdiction.  you could get there through martial law or you could get there through being a resident of an occupied territory, but you don’t get there if there’s an intervening superior jurisdiction.  insofar as Bill Keller is clearly a citizen and resident of the U.S. and subject to Article III courts, he’s not subject to 104.  Manning, of course, voluntarily subjugated himself to the UCMJ.

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