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Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has been acquitted of the most serious charge against him — aiding the enemy — a charge that carried a potential life sentence. But he still faces up to 136 years in prison at a sentencing hearing that begins tomorrow.
The judge at the court-martial in Maryland deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before deciding to convict Manning on espionage, theft and computer fraud charges, but not on the charge of aiding the enemy.
Manning stood and faced the judge as she read the decision. She didn’t explain her verdict, but said she would release detailed written findings.
Manning had acknowledged giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq. He said during a pre-trial hearing that he leaked the material to expose what he said was the military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for human life.
A defense lawyer said Manning could have sold the information or given it directly to the enemy, but chose instead to give the material to WikiLeaks to “spark reform” and provoke debate.
Prosecutors said Manning knew the material would be seen by al-Qaida, and that he broke signed agreements to protect the secrets.
Ed Pilkington has been covering the trial for The Guardian. He describes the scene at Fort Meade as the verdict was read.
Carrie Johnson, NPR’s justice correspondent, explains the charges ahead of the verdict, and the possible sentences Manning could face.
To hear the interview with Eugene Fidell and Philip Ewing, click the audio player at the top of the page.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And Army Private Bradley Manning has been found guilty of espionage but not guilty of the most serious charge against him: aiding the enemy. You remember Manning confessed to leaking more than 700,000 military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks. His defense team said his intent was to alert Americans about what he saw as unjust and deceitful U.S. practices.
Prosecutors said some of those papers made their way to Osama bin Laden. Eugene Fidell is president of the National Institute of Military Justice, a professor at Yale Law School. Let's get response. Professor Fidell, your reaction to Judge Denise Lind's decision.
EUGENE FIDELL: The government had a very, very heavy burden to carry. They had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Private Manning was guilty of aiding the enemy. And I must say I'm not all that surprised that he was acquitted on that charge. It's a very difficult charge. It's one that's very rarely invoked. And even though the government was able to get Judge Lind to keep the charge in the case, ultimately it had more than it could handle...
FIDELL: ...in terms of getting a conviction.
YOUNG: Let me ask you about that because in looking at the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Of course, if you give arms or ammunition, that's pretty clear. But it also says, if you, without proper authority, knowingly harbor or protect or give intelligence to or communicate or correspond with or hold any intercourse with the enemy either directly or indirectly. And so doesn't indirectly - I mean, it would sound like, just on the face of it, these papers which might have indirectly got into Osama bin Laden would have been giving intelligence.
FIDELL: Well, so you would think. But the question is whether the government's case, parts of which at least were circumstantial in terms of what Manning intended, what he knew about the access that al-Qaida and others had to WikiLeaks, those might have been doubtful enough for Judge Lind to say, you know, the government really hasn't carried its burden here.
Now I should say that this kind of charge has occasionally been filed against GIs. I can think of a case from not all that long ago of attempted aiding the enemy that produced a conviction and a life sentence. I know there was a case in the Civil War where a Union Army officer was prosecuted for giving troop movement information to the newspaper in Alexandria, Virginia. There was an incident in World War II when a reporter for a nationally known newspaper published information regarding vessel movements that was ultimately based on the fact that we cracked the Japanese code. And the government did consider a prosecution there but then thought better of it.
YOUNG: Now, well, human right groups and supporters of Private Manning are, I'm sure, celebrating. Does this mean the life prison possibility in the sentencing is off the table?
FIDELL: That's right. The death - not only the death penalty...
YOUNG: But the life sentence.
FIDELL: ...which had already been taken off the table, but the life sentence is off the table too.
FIDELL: But he's still subject to a very prolonged period of confinement.
YOUNG: Yeah, for the five charges of espionage. But what are the implications of this case for the case against Edward Snowden, the, of course, former security analyst who also leaked documents? And these are documents, which were not found in Osama bin Laden's possession.
FIDELL: Well, Mr. Snowden is not in the military nor has he been serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field in the time of a declared war or a contingency operation. Therefore, he's not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. On the other hand, this case does demonstrate how very, very seriously the government takes this kind of conduct.
And this wholesale disbursement - dispersal of the government's crown jewels in terms of classified information is something that the government has very good reason to want to suppress. And so I think the message is that government is going to pursue him and try to punish him and deter others from getting it into their heads to do the same thing.
YOUNG: Well, staying with Bradley Manning, we remember The Guardian article when he was first arrested. A fellow soldier who felt that Bradley Manning had been bullied should have been removed from the situation he was in. Now, he may have acted alone, but the military is a top-down organization. Do you think his superiors should face consequences for, as you say, the fact that he had access to this material?
FIDELL: There definitely has to be some soul searching about the administration of the classified information program because to me - and I have held the security clearance both on active duty and afterwards - this is an unbelievable set of facts that a person of Private Manning's status in the military would even get access to highly classified material.
But be that as it may, I think that the government has already punished some people. The problem is it hasn't told what it's done to people who might have been in a position to prevent this from happening. And, frankly, I think the American public has a right to know exactly what sanctions were imposed. We talk all the time about holding people accountable. We've got to know actually what got done.
YOUNG: Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a Yale Law School professor. Thank you so much, professor.
FIDELL: You're welcome.
YOUNG: Let's take a couple of minutes with Philip Ewing, defense editor for Politico. Philip, who wins and loses here? Obviously, Bradley Manning did not have that harshest conviction, but spread it wider for us.
PHILIP EWING: Well, I think when we see this proceeding move into the sentencing phase tomorrow, you're going to see the military prosecutors make the case to the judge, Colonel Lind, that he's done irreparable, grave damage to the United States and that he should be punished accordingly. We know that she is going to credit whatever sentence he inevitably gets with some of the time that he spent in confinement down in Quantico when she has said that he was basically mistreated by the Marines who run that facility there.
EWING: In terms of a wider perspective, clearly, the Obama administration wants to send a message to everyone inside and outside of the government that it is serious about information security, and that it will throw the book at any one it catches violating its confidence by leaking these documents or talking to reporters or generally, you know, spreading information that it doesn't want spread.
YOUNG: Well - but you may not be able to - I guess, the other part of the message is you may not be able to throw the full book.
EWING: That's right. That is one lesson that prosecutors could potentially take away. They did everything they possible could to put Manning in prison for as long as possible. This aiding-the-enemy acquittal means that they weren't able to demonstrate, you know, to the judge's requirements that he was actually guilty of that. But in terms of the Snowden case and potential future prosecutions, I wouldn't be surprised if the government is just as aggressive then, notwithstanding, you know, whatever the final results of this Manning case are.
YOUNG: Philip Ewing, defense editor for Politico, thanks.
EWING: OK. Thank you.
YOUNG: As again, today's news, Army Private Bradley Manning found guilty of five counts of espionage, stealing documents, but not guilty of the more serious charge of aiding the enemy. Of course, we'll continue to have more reports on this all day on NPR. Back in a minute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.