A military judge on Monday acquitted Army Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy – the most serious of charges he faced for releasing thousands of classified documents to the antisecrecy website WikiLeaks – but guilty of multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act.
The sentencing hearing for the 25-year-old is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning at a courtroom in Fort Meade, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. The former low-level intelligence analyst faces up to 136 years in a military prison for the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
"Bradley Manning's convictions today include 5 (counts) of espionage. A very serious new precedent for supplying information (to) the press," WikiLeaks posted on its Twitter account after the verdict.
First Amendment advocates, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, expressed relief that Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, but also cautioned about the chilling effect the other convictions may have on journalists and whistleblowers.
"This is a historic verdict,” stated Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Liberty and National Security at the Brennan Center for Justice, in a statement. “Manning is one of very few people ever charged under the Espionage Act prosecutions for leaks to the media. The only other person who was convicted after trial was pardoned. Despite the lack of any evidence that he intended any harm to the United States, Manning faces decades in prison. That’s a very scary precedent."
On Monday, Army Col. Denise Lind found Manning not guilty of stealing government property and “wanton publication of intelligence on the Internet.” However, Lind found him guilty of failure to obey a lawful order or regulation and numerous counts of violating the Espionage Act.
In February, the Oklahoma native pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts relating to the release of the secret documents, which included videos of airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in civilian casualties including the deaths of children and two Reuters journalists, classified information about detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, and roughly 250,000 cables from American diplomats stationed around the world.
The prosecution argued that Manning was aware that terrorist organizations monitored the controversial website WikiLeaks when he handed over classified information in Feb. 2010.
But Manning's attorney, David Coombs, said in court that the soldier was well-intentioned and wanted to "spark a worldwide discussion" about what he believed was abuse of U.S. military power against the Iraqi people.
"While we're relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act," said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union' s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, in a statement. "Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information — which carry significant punishment — it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future."
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