Originally published at Digital Journal
A military court has found Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, a charge that could have resulted in life imprisonment. Manning was, however, found guilty of 19 of the 22 charges against him, including five counts of espionage.
Manning was also found guilty of five counts of theft. The Guardian reports he could face a sentence of more than 130 years behind bars. The sentencing phase of his trial is set to begin on Wednesday.
CNN reports Manning was also found not guilty of unauthorized possession of information relating to national defense. But far more often than not, the word “guilty” rang out through the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland.
“Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,” Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over Manning’s court-martial, repeatedly said as she read the verdicts on each count against him.
The 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst stood accused of violating the 1917 Espionage Act by dumping state secrets “into the lap of the enemy” via the transmission of hundreds of thousands of classified US military and diplomatic cables to the whistleblower website Wikileaks in what was the largest leak of state secrets in American history. While Manning was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act, the ‘aiding the enemy’ charge was the most serious one Manning faced. But the prosecution was unable to prove that he knew his disclosures would end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or other US enemies.
Manning maintained that he did not believe the leaked documents would harm the United States, but NBC News reports some of the classified information found its way into the hands of Osama bin Laden and was recovered during the US military raid on his Pakistan compound in 2011.
Defense attorney David Coombs painted a picture of Manning as a young, naive but good-intentioned American who leaked the classified documents in an attempt to bring to light war crimes. Manning, who pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, explained that he leaked the files to expose the US military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for the lives of innocent men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the material in the leaked documents were files detailing US and allied atrocities and war crimes in both of those nations (the so-called Iraq and Afghan war logs), as well as documents proving that 150 innocent men and boys were knowingly imprisoned in the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay.
The leaked files also detail US cover-ups of child rape, torture, the killing of civilians in countries against which the United States has not declared hostilities, the killing of journalists, State Department spying on US allies and the UN, and other offenses.
While the architects and perpetrators of many of the crimes revealed by Manning and Wikileaks have gone unpunished or have even been protected by the US government under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has chosen to aggressively pursue those who blow the whistle on such crimes, raising global alarm over US hypocrisy.
Manning’s case divided national opinion, with about half of Americans viewing him as a traitor, while millions of others consider him a whistleblower and a champion of transparency. Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize each year since 2011 for exposing “a long history of corruption and war crimes” and helping “motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements.”
Daniel Ellsberg, a former US military analyst who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, which proved the Lyndon B. Johnson administration lied to Congress and the American people about US involvement in the Vietnam War, called Manning “an extraordinary American who went on record and acted on his awareness that it was wrong for us to be killing foreigners.” Ellsberg said he believed that Manning “saved lives.” Manning also enjoyed widespread support from many celebrities and foreign leaders.
Manning’s family released a statement which read, in part:
While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.
Civil libertarians reacted to Tuesday’s verdicts with mixed emotions.
“This is a historic verdict,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Huffington Post. “Manning is one of the very few people charged under the Espionage Act [prosecuted] for leaks to the media. The only other person who was convicted after trial was pardoned. 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.”
Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, told the Huffington Post she is “obviously relieved” that Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge against him.
“There was no evidence to convict him,” Brown asserted.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accused the US government of “seeking to intimidate” any potential future whistleblowers:
While we’re relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information– which carry significant punishment– it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.