Scene from a videotape shot by the U.S. military when they killed civilians, including journalists, in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks has made the video available along with over 90,000 documents exposing war crimes in Afghanistan., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Bradley Manning acquitted of aiding enemy, still may face long jail term
By Medina Roshan
6:57 PM CDT, July 30, 2013
FORT MEADE, Maryland
A military judge on Tuesday found U.S. soldier Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced for handing over documents to WikiLeaks, but he still likely faces a long jail term after being found guilty of all 19 other counts.
Colonel Denise Lind ruled the 25-year-old Army private first class was guilty of five espionage charges, among many others, for the largest unauthorized release of classified U.S. data in the nation's history.
The trove of documents, including battlefield videos and diplomatic cables, was a huge boost to the profile of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website and its founder Julian Assange. Tuesday's verdict could be a blow to his efforts to encourage people with access to secret information to release it publicly.
Supporters of Manning were heartened by the not guilty ruling on the most serious charge, though WikiLeaks said the conviction represented "a very serious new precedent."
Manning, who was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he was arrested three years ago, could face up to 136 years in military prison. Lind will take up the question of his sentence on Wednesday.
The outcome of the sentencing phase will be crucial for Manning and, more broadly, other future government leakers.
"This is a historic verdict," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Manning is one of very few people ever charged under the Espionage Act for leaks to the media. The only other person who was convicted was pardoned after trial.
“Despite the lack of any evidence that he intended any harm to the United States, Manning faces decades in prison. That’s a very scary precedent.”
The U.S. government was pushing for a life sentence without parole, which would have come if Manning had been convicted of aiding the enemy by leaking of information that included battlefield reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It viewed the action as a serious breach of national security, while anti-secrecy activists praised it as shining a light on shadowy U.S. operations abroad.
"The verdict is certainly a chilling one for investigative journalism, for people who might come into information that they believe should be part of the public discourse," said Michael Bochenek, director of law and policy at Amnesty International. "The message is that the government will go after you."
In London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused President Barack Obama of "national security extremism" after the judge announced her verdict.
Praising Manning as "the most important journalistic source that the world has ever seen", Assange said the U.S. soldier, who prosecutors said had supplied WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents, did not receive a fair trial and called for the verdict to be overturned.
"The government kept Bradley Manning in a cage, stripped him naked and isolated him in order to break him, an act formally condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for torture. This was never a fair trial," Assange said from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, his home for more than a year.
Assange said WikiLeaks and Manning's own legal team would not rest until the judgment was overturned.
"It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short-sighted judgment that cannot be tolerated and it must be reversed."
MANNING AND SNOWDEN
Manning's case is one of two prominent ones involving high-profile leaks, illustrating the limits of secrecy in the Internet age. Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been holed up in the transit area of a Moscow airport for more than a month, despite U.S. calls for Russian authorities to turn him over.
Army prosecutors contended during Manning's court-martial that U.S. security was harmed when WikiLeaks published videos of a 2007 attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff, diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
Manning's leaks to the site in 2009 and 2010 put the international spotlight on Assange.
Manning showed little reaction during the hearing, which lasted only about five minutes.
A crowd of about 30 Manning supporters gathered outside Fort Meade, where the court-martial was held. One of them, Nathan Fuller, said it was a relief that Manning had been acquitted of the most serious charge but expressed concern over the stiff sentence he could still face.
"The remaining charges against him are still tantamount to life in prison. That's still an outrage," Fuller said. "He's equated with spies and traitors."
But two top U.S. Congressmen from a House intelligence committee praised the verdict.
"Justice has been served today. PFC Manning harmed our national security, violated the public's trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes," said Representatives Michael Rogers, a Republican who chairs the committee and Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat and its ranking member.
"There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security," they said in a joint statement.
Manning, originally from Crescent, Oklahoma, opted to have his case heard by a judge, rather than a panel of military jurors.
During the court-martial proceedings, military prosecutors called the defendant a "traitor" for publicly posting information that the U.S. government said could jeopardize national security and intelligence operations.
Defense lawyers described Manning as well-intentioned but naive in hoping that his disclosures would provoke a more intense debate in the United States about diplomatic and military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.