The military intelligence analyst was found not guilty on the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy,” but was found guilty of violating the Espionage Act.
The military intelligence analyst who leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks and sparked a worldwide debate on U.S. foreign policy was found guilty today on charges that he violated the Espionage Act–the favored tool the Obama administration uses when cracking down on whistleblowers. But Manning was found not guilty on the charge of “aiding the enemy,” the most controversial and serious charge he faced. The verdict is the culmination of about two months of legal proceedings that took place at a military base in Maryland.
Manning was found guilty on five counts of violating laws prohibiting espionage and guilty on five counts of theft. In total, he faced 21 charges, and was found guilty on most of them. He faces over 100 years of prison, and the sentencing phase of his trial begins tomorrow.
The court martial of Manning witnessed charges by the prosecution that Manning leaked the documents to intentionally harm the United States, with the defense arguing that Manning was a whistleblower seeking to expose war crimes.The harsh charge of “aiding the enemy” had grave implications for press freedom in the U.S. Experts had warned that if Manning was found guilty on that charge, it would be a dark day for journalism, as it would mean Manning was guility merely because the “enemy”–in this case, Al Qaeda–read and possessed the material Manning placed on the Internet. It would have had major consequences for national security journalism.
In the closing weeks of the trial, the back and forth between the defense and the prosecution heated up. Army Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein spoke harshly of Manning and disputed the central premise of the defense’s argument: that Manning was acting out of conscience. “He was not a humanist. He was a hacker,” said Fein. “He was not a troubled soul. He was not a whistle blower. He was a traitor.” Fein also sought to bolster the “aiding the enemy” charge against Manning by arguing that “Osama Bin Laden asked for that information and received it.” The prosecution also argued that Manning wanted to be famous for his actions.
The defense pushed back against Fein’s argument the next day. They argued Manning was driven by his conscience and wanted to inform the American public about what was happening in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world in their name. Manning’s defense lawyer, David Coombs, argued that the former intelligence analyst was a “young, naive, good-intentioned soldier who had human life, in his humanist beliefs, [central] to his decision.”
Now that the verdict phase of the trial is over, the sentencing phase begins. Throughout August, the defense and prosecution will call more witnesses and make more arguments regarding the sentencing of Manning.
The saga of Bradley Manning began in 2010, when he was arrested. His arrest came after he leaked thousands of diplomatic cables to the website WikiLeaks and shortly after the whistleblowing website published a video entitled “Collateral Murder,” which showed how U.S. helicopter killed unarmed civilians and a Reuters journalist in Iraq during the occupation.
Manning was treated harshly by military guards while imprisoned at the Quantico military base in Virginia. He was thrown in solitary confinement for 11 months and put on suicide watch, though supporters of Manning say that was a justification used for inhumane treatment of Manning. He was stripped naked at night and forced to stand there while other officers inspected him.
Manning’s leak to WikiLeaks exposed the sordid dealings of U.S. foreign policy. The documents given to WikiLeaks revealed U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the U.S. conducts diplomacy with other nations. He has consistently said that his actions were meant to shine light on U.S. policy.
“If the general public… had access to the information… this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general,” Manning said in February, explaining why he gave the documents to WikiLeaks.
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