(FORT MEADE, Md.) — Bradley Manning, the source of one of WikiLeaks’ largest disclosures of U.S. secrets, was found guilty Tuesday of most of the charges against him, but not the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.
Manning had already pleaded guilty to 10 of the less serious of the 22 charges in a deal that got him an expected 20 years in prison. On Tuesday, a military judge announced the court’s finding on the rest of the charges, a majority of them guilty verdicts, for espionage, theft and fraud. However, Manning managed to avoid the charge of aiding the enemy, which could have carried with it a life sentence.
Despite that finding, Manning could still face 136 years in prison for the other convictions. The sentencing phase of Manning’s trial begins Wednesday.
With his dress sleeves drooping well below his wrist line, almost to his fingertips, Manning stood rigid as military judge Col. Denise Lind briskly read the verdicts. More than two dozen spectators took seats in the courtroom, many of them Manning supporters who wore black t-shirts that read, simply, “truth.” They remained silent throughout the proceeding, which lasted mere minutes.
When Manning first entered the courtroom, he appeared relaxed, but as the hour of his verdict drew near, he became more pensive, silently taking his seat.
Following the hearing, Manning’s family released a statement to The Guardian newspaper, saying they are “obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, [but] 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,” the family said, according to The Guardian.
WikiLeaks tweeted that the verdict was an example of “dangerous national security extremism from the Obama administration.”
The court martial began three years after Manning, now 25, was first detained in Iraq for suspicion of having leaked the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed several Iraqi civilians. He was subsequently charged in relation to the November 2010 leak of the nearly three-quarter million classified or confidential documents. The release of the documents has been described as the most extensive leak of classified information in U.S. history.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said that Manning was a “hero” for doing what he did. Prosecutors called him an anarchist and traitor.
As part of his earlier partial guilty plea, Manning read a 35-page statement in which he explained his motivations in releasing the classified documents. Manning said he had wanted “to spark a debate about foreign policy” and show “the true cost of war.”
Manning did not testify during the nearly two-month court martial.
Army prosecutors argued that Manning showed “general evil intent” in aiding the enemy. They argued that given his intelligence training he knew that leaking classified information to the Internet would end up in the hands of al Qaeda.
Prosecutors provided evidence that some of the military battlefield reports had been found on a computer belonging to Osama bin Laden that had been seized during the U.S. military raid that killed the al Qaeda leader in May 2011.
Prosecutors presented detailed computer forensics of Manning’s computer activity during his deployment to Iraq in late 2009 to mid-2010. They said the evidence showed that within weeks of his arrival in Baghdad, Manning had begun searching classified military computer networks for materials that were of interest to WikiLeaks.
Manning’s attorneys said Manning did not begin leaking information until February 2010. They described Manning’s doubts about his military service following a Christmas Eve incident where an Iraqi family was injured by a roadside blast that had targeted soldiers from his unit.
“He couldn’t forget the lives lost that day,” said defense attorney David Coombs during opening arguments. He portrayed Manning as a young, naive soldier who decided to release the classified documents he had access to “because he thought he could make the world a better place.”
In their closing arguments prosecutors dismissed those claims. “He was not a humanist, he was a hacker,” said Maj. Ashden Fein.
Fein said the only naiveté Manning displayed during the time he was sending classified documents to WikiLeaks was that “he actually thought he would get away with what he did and wouldn’t get caught.”
Fein was equally dismissive of the support Manning has received from civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates who consider him a whistleblower.
“He was not a whistleblower, he was a traitor,” said Fein as he concluded his lengthy closing arguments last Thursday.
Now being held at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning’s initial detention at the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., became the subject of controversy after jailers deemed him a suicide risk.
Manning was forced to remain in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day and on a few occasions he was required to remain naked. His attorneys said the treatment merited dismissing the case against him because it amounted to cruel and unlawful punishment.
After a lengthy pre-trial hearing late last year, judge Lind found there was validity to some of the allegations and reduced any potential prison sentence by 112 days.
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