A military judge on Tuesday acquitted Army Pfc. Bradley Manning of the most serious charge against him but found the former intelligence analyst and self-styled whistleblower guilty of various charges involving stolen documents turned over to the WikiLeaks website.
In the most highly scrutinized court-martial in years, Army Col. Denise Lind acquitted Manning on a charge of aiding the enemy. A conviction could have sent the 25-year-old Manning to prison for life.
But following a nearly two-month trial held at Maryland’s Fort Meade, outside of Washington, D.C., Lind found Manning guilty of multiple espionage counts related to the theft and distribution of some 700,000 digital government documents. Manning provided the documentary treasure trove to WikiLeaks, which publishes material from U.S. and foreign corporations and governments.
Lind will sentence Manning following another extended hearing that starts Wednesday and will include additional testimony. In theory, according to a tally by the Manning Support Network, Manning could still face a sentence of more than 150 years.
Prosecutors had summoned more than 80 witnesses as they cast Manning as a “traitor” and “calculating and self-interested” man who betrayed his country during a deployment to Iraq that began in October 2009. While working at Forward Operating Base Hammer east of Baghdad, Manning copied myriad files from military computer networks called SIPRnet and NIPRnet. Then, he provided them to WikiLeaks.
“His mission, as an all-intelligence analyst, was a special trust,” Army Maj. Ashden Fein said during his closing argument last week. “But within weeks of arriving at Iraq, he abused and destroyed this trust with the wholesale, indiscriminate compromise of hundreds of thousands of classified documents.”
Fein further characterized WikiLeaks as an “information anarchist” that’s closer to a foreign intelligence service than it is to a conventional media organization.
Manning had admitted conveying the documents to WikiLeaks with the help of his personal Apple Macintosh laptop computer, and he had already agreed to plead guilty to some charges.
“He was hoping that, if people knew the true casualty figures in Iraq, that people would be alarmed by that,” defense attorney David Coombs said during his closing argument last Friday. “He was hoping that, if people read the diplomatic cables, they would be alarmed by what we are saying about other countries, how we are not always doing the right thing.”
An Oklahoma native, Manning had enlisted in the Army in 2008, gained assignment with a top-secret clearance to the New York-based 10th Mountain Division and then was arrested in May 2010. His subsequent detention under Spartan conditions at a Marine Corps brig contributed to the sympathy he attracted from some political quarters.
From the start, Manning’s supporters have characterized him as an idealist who swiped government documents for idealistic reasons. The material that particularly hit home for Manning included a video showing an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007 that killed 11 people, including two news organization employees.
“You have to look at this through the eyes of a young man who cares about human life,” Coombs said.
A complete but informal transcript of Manning’s court-martial has been prepared daily by a stenographer funded by donors coordinated by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The crowd-sourced transcript, in turn, has been only one of many unusual aspects of the trial that began June 3 amid the highly secure confines of Fort Meade, home to the secretive National Security Agency.
In the trial’s final days, for instance, Lind banned from the courtroom a sketch artist and vocal Manning supporter who had allegedly made a threatening comment. Journalists covering the trial from a remote media center reported last week intense scrutiny from armed military police officers; the handful of reporters allowed in the courtroom were banned from Tweeting..
Outside the courtroom, Manning’s trial attracted considerable attention. His supporters, for instance, convened a San Francisco rally on Tuesday in conjunction with the announcement of the verdict, while 17 members of the European Parliament wrote President Barack Obama this week urging an end to what they termed the “persecution” of Manning. Other supporters gathered outside the Fort Meade gates Tuesday.
The charges he was convicted on included specific instances of theft of government property as well as failure to obey orders concerning classified information.
The most controversial charge was that Manning aided an enemy of the United States by knowingly giving intelligence through indirect means to al-Qaida. Prosecutors argued that Manning knew al-Qaida’s leaders perused WikiLeaks for information about the U.S. military; the aiding-the-enemy charge carried a potential death penalty, though prosecutors ruled that out early..
Manning opted to have his case decided by the judge alone, rather than by a military panel.
(The Associated Press also contributed to this report.)