Published November 21, 2015
The U.S. Army soldier charged with providing troves of government documents to WikiLeaks was found not guilty Tuesday of aiding the enemy, the top charge in his 21-count indictment that could have carried a life sentence, however, he was convicted of several lesser charges that can carry a 128-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors had to prove Army Pfc. Bradley Manning had "a general evil intent" and knew the classified material would be seen by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. Legal experts said an aiding-the- enemy conviction could set a precedent because Manning did not directly give the classified material to Al Qaeda.
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before reaching her decision in the case.
Manning was convicted of five espionage counts, five theft charges, a computer fraud charge and other military infractions. The sentencing phase of his trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., and will likely go on for several weeks.
The 25-year-old Crescent, Okla., native acknowledged giving the anti-secrecy website hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos in early 2010.
Manning said he didn't believe the information would harm troops in Afghanistan and Iraq or threaten national security.
Manning's court-martial was unusual because he acknowledged giving the anti-secrecy website more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. In the footage, airmen laughed and called targets "dead bastards."
Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offenses that could have brought him 20 years behind bars, yet the government continued to pursue the original, more serious charges.
Manning said during a pre-trial hearing in February he leaked the material to expose the U.S military's "bloodlust" and disregard for human life, and what he considered American diplomatic deceit. He said he chose information he believed would not the harm the United States and he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy. He did not testify at his court-martial.
Defense attorney David Coombs portrayed Manning as a "young, naive but good-intentioned" soldier who was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay service member at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. military.
He said Manning could have sold the information or given it directly to the enemy, but he gave them to WikiLeaks in an attempt to "spark reform" and provoke debate. A counterintelligence witness valued the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs at about $5.7 million, based on what foreign intelligence services had paid in the past for similar information.
Coombs said Manning had no way of knowing whether al-Qaida would access the secret-spilling website and a 2008 counterintelligence report showed the government itself didn't know much about the site.
The defense attorney also mocked the testimony of a former supervisor who said Manning told her the American flag meant nothing to him and she suspected before they deployed to Iraq that Manning was a spy. Coombs noted she had not written up a report on Manning's alleged disloyalty, though had written ones on him taking too many smoke breaks and drinking too much coffee.
The government said Manning had sophisticated security training and broke signed agreements to protect the secrets. He even had to give a presentation on operational security during his training after he got in trouble for posting a YouTube video about what he was learning.
The lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said Manning knew the material would be seen by al-Qaida, a key point prosecutor needed to prove to get an aiding the enemy conviction. Even Osama bin Laden had some of the digital files at his compound when he was killed.
About two dozen people wearing "truth" t-shirts waved signs Tuesday morning outside the Army installation near Baltimore. They proclaimed their admiration for the former intelligence analyst who sent reams of classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Twenty-three-year-old Joel Greenfield of Arcadia, Calif., says Manning exposed the truth about military and diplomatic wrongdoing and is now paying the price for it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report