Three years after he was first charged with leaking classified government material, following eight weeks of testimony and three days of deliberation, a military judge found Bradley Manning not guilty today of “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense, but guilty of nineteen lesser counts for violating the Espionage Act. Despite the surprising outcome — even his most ardent supporters were pessimistic — Manning could still face more than 100 years in prison during a sentencing phase that will include more witnesses for both sides and could take weeks. Manning’s fate was decided by Col. Denise Lind in a court martial after he waived his right to a jury trial.
The 25-year-old soldier and WikiLeaks associate had previously agreed to plead guilty to 10 of the 22 charges, which carry up to twenty years in prison, but the government pushed forward with the “aiding the enemy” case anyway, arguing that some of the 700,000 documents he leaked were obtained by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. (A full breakdown of the charges is here.) According to the prosecution, “He was not a whistleblower; he was a traitor.”
The Washington Post noted that the government’s “aiding the enemy” case used a historical precedent from the 1800s:
The government relied on a case from the Civil War to bring the charge: In that trial, a Union Army private, Henry Vanderwater, was found guilty of aiding the enemy when he leaked a Union roster to an Alexandria newspaper. Vanderwater received a sentence of three months hard labor and was dishonorably discharged.
Manning has confessed to being the WikiLeaks source for military videos, including the widely seen “Collateral Murder” clip of an Iraq airstrike, and documents like prisoner dossiers from Guantánamo Bay. “This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war, and revealing the true nature of the 21st century asymmetric warfare,” he alerted to WikiLeaks upon delivering the war logs in 2010. “Have a good day.” The prosecution argued that his actions were the result of immaturity and naïveté about the the ability to “spark a worldwide discussion.”
Even after sentencing, though, his case is not over: An appeal will be heard by the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals and could eventually reach the Supreme Court. Edward Snowden, still holed up in a Russian airport, will no doubt be watching closely.
Julian Assange predicted that punishing Manning “will be the end of national security journalism,” while supports have decried the lack of media attention paid to the case throughout. Today it was not an issue. “There are more journalists here than there have ever been before,” said Clark Stoeckley, the activist known for driving the WikiLeaks truck and whose forthcoming The United States vs. PFC Bradley Manning will provide an illustrated account of the trial. “They finally showed up for the verdict,” he sighed from Fort Meade in Maryland.
“Tonight we’ll have a lot of reflection, a lot of tears,” Stoeckley told Daily Intelligencer, in reference to the cadre of Manning defenders who have “exhausted themselves” following the case for years. “But it’s definitely not the end of this struggle.”