A military judge has found U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of “Aiding the Enemy,” the most serious charge the 25-year-old faced under the Espionage Act of 1917, though he still faces more than a century behind bars for leaking classified materials to whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
Manning, whose case was the subject of a Press multimedia package last month, was accused of sharing more than 700,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables and military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan with WikiLeaks. The government’s prosecutors had argued that the disclosures had assisted al-Qaida.
Ultimately, the military judge hearing the case, Col. Denise Lind, disagreed. Manning was also acquitted of one count that came from an accused leaking of a video showing a U.S. military airstrike in Farah, Afghanistan, which reportedly killed more than 100 unarmed civilians, including women and children.
But Lind did find Manning guilty of almost all the other charges against him. So he now faces up to 136 years in jail. The sentencing phase could last two to three weeks with more than two dozen witnesses from both sides. He’s also expected to appeal.
Manning’s prosecution has been viewed by advocacy groups, watchdogs, civil rights activists, and a handful of prominent journalists—such as Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges, renowned linguist Noam Chomsky and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and journalist Alexa O’Brien, to name but a few—as the latest front in an all-out war being waged by the Obama Administration against American civil liberties with serious ramifications for free speech and journalism.
Manning’s conviction validates those fears, says O’Brien.
“This verdict is act of aggression against a free press, civic society, and the conscience of a young man,” she tells the Press from Maryland shortly after the verdict.
The Oklahoma-born Manning had enlisted in the Army in October 2007, and had been deployed to Baghdad as an intelligence analyst in 2009. While in uniform, he soured on the war and saw the conflict in a different light. In February, 2013, Manning had pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges, including giving classified cockpit gun-sight footage of U.S. Apache helicopters killing civilians in Iraq in 2007. Two of the victims were a Reuters news agency photojournalist and his assistant.
The judge, Col. Denise Lind, read her verdict from the bench at 1 p.m. July 30 at Fort Meade, Md., where the trial has been held since early June. No official transcripts have been made available to the public. O’Brien and a handful of other journalists and activists—including Kevin Gosztola of FireDogLake, Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News Service and the Bradley Manning Support Network’s Nathan Fuller—provided the only public record of the proceedings.
After the verdicts in the specific charges were reported, O’Brien tweeted, “I am going back into the funeral of a young man.” Manning’s family also issued a statement, thanking Manning’s Army defense team and expressing gratitude that the judge did not find him guilty of Aiding the Enemy.
“Manning didn’t have a chance,” O’Brien told the Press, from Maryland. “He faced Aiding the Enemy and eight Espionage Act Charges, two violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and five charges for stealing U.S. Government property—each at ten years a pop.
“That the press just caught onto the fact that Aiding the Enemy is applicable to any person, that they are now wondering about the Espionage Act charges, speaks volumes to their negligence and dereliction of duty.”