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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.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Today is the day Army Private Bradley Manning, accused of the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, will hear the verdict of a military judge in Fort Mead, Maryland.
HOBSON: The 25-year-old soldier is accused of aiding the enemy by sending thousands of secret documents to the website WikiLeaks. His defenders say he was alerting his own country of questionable wartime practices. In a moment, we'll take a closer look at some of those secrets Manning is accused of leaking.
YOUNG: But first, as we await the judge's verdict, NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us. Carrie, remind us, what are some of the charges? There were more than 20. And hasn't Manning admitted to some of them already?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robin. Yes, there were 21 charges, including leaking war field reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaking hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, very sensitive one in some cases, and a 2007 video of military personnel targeting civilians in Iraq, including people who work for the news service Reuters.
The charges in some include violations of the Espionage Act, theft and computer abuses. And Manning has already agreed to plead guilty to about half of those charges, which carry a 20-year maximum prison sentence. But what people are really watching today, Robin, is the aiding the enemy charge.
YOUNG: Yeah, we've heard this described as sort of a watered-down charge of treason. It's the closest charge you can get to treason when you might, for instance, cross enemy lines to fight for the enemy. What is the prosecutor's proof that he has aided the enemy, and if he's charged with that, what does that mean? I mean convicted, what does that mean?
JOHNSON: That charge carries a possible life sentence. U.S. military prosecutors say they will not seek capital punishment against Bradley Manning, but they do want him to serve a life sentence in military prison. Essentially prosecutors are saying that Manning had training as an Army intelligence analyst, and he knew that if he leaked something that went up on the Internet to WikiLeaks that al-Qaida and American enemies could see it and use it against the country. In fact...
YOUNG: Well - oh, go ahead.
JOHNSON: In fact military prosecutor Major Ashton Fein said that printouts of some of the material that Manning leaked were found in Osama bin Laden's lair in Pakistan.
YOUNG: Well, so that's their proof. On the other side, we have people, including Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers, who consider Bradley Manning a hero, a whistleblower, who was trying to alert his countrymen to wartime activities. But what else about this case has attracted so much international attention?
JOHNSON: In short, Robin, his conditions of confinement. Manning was taken into custody in Baghdad. He was held in Kuwait in what he described earlier in these court proceedings as a kind of cage. And finally when he got to - onto American soil, he was held in a military brig in Virginia in solitary confinement with some forced nudity.
And there was an argument from his defenders that he was subjected to terrible, terrible practices, when in fact, Bradley Manning was just a young, naive kid who wanted to start a conversation about U.S. foreign policy and what he perceived to be abuses in the wars.
Former prosecutors say, though, Robin, that leaking indiscriminately to WikiLeaks was not the right way to start that kind of conversation.
YOUNG: Yeah, that he might have had other avenues. But Carrie, we know that the verdict, which is expected to come around 1 p.m. East Coast Time, just reading the verdict may take a while. But even after the verdict is read, this is not over?
JOHNSON: Not at all. What happens next, Robin, is his sentencing, and that is not going to be a fast process. Nothing in this case has turned out to be fast. It's been over three years since the guy was detained in the first place. Both prosecutors and Manning's defense team say they may put on more than a dozen witnesses each to describe his motives and his state of mind to help the judge determine a sentence, and that process could last most of the month of August.
So it could be quite a while before we know whether he's going to be facing a lot of time behind bars, even life or more like a decade or two.
YOUNG: And we understand that the courtroom where this is all happening is incredibly secure. Telephones are not going to be allowed in. I'm not sure what reporters are going to be able to do about, you know, getting word out of the court. But what's the anticipation around this? What can you feel?
JOHNSON: So I've been in and out of Fort Mead, certainly not on a daily basis, but I can describe and brief the conditions for you. If you're in the courtroom itself as part of a media pool, you are not allowed to have anything other than a pencil and a pad of paper. And in the press room, it's considered to be an extension of the courthouse. So you cannot - and the courtroom. So you cannot be online on a regular basis.
During breaks you might be able to send a message to the outside world, but it may take a little while before we find out what the judge has ruled in this case.
YOUNG: Yeah, and it's highly anticipated. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.