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Sunday, September 25, 2016

FORT MEADE, Maryland (AFP) – A US military judge found Wikileaks’ source Private Bradley Manning guilty of several counts of espionage on Tuesday but cleared him of the charge that he ‘aided the enemy.’

Despite being cleared on the most serious charge, Manning will still face a lengthy prison term for his breaches of the espionage act when a sentencing hearing begins Wednesday.

In all, Manning was found guilty of 20 of 22 counts related to his leaking of a huge trove of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, government records and military logs to the Wikileaks website.

Military judge Colonel Denise Lind said that she would begin sentencing hearings Wednesday, at the Fort Meade military base outside Washington where the trial was held.

If Lind decides to impose penalties in the higher ranges permitted under the charges, the now 25-year-old Manning could face a de facto life sentence of more than 100 years in jail.

“On charge one, court finds you not guilty,” Lind told the hearing, before reading the long list of lesser counts on which Manning was found guilty of breaching the espionage act or disobeying orders.

The court was silent and Manning, a boyish young man in an army dress uniform and round glasses, showed no emotion before the live feed to the press room was cut.

Some freedom of information activists will welcome the news that he was at least cleared of knowingly aiding U.S. foe Al-Qaeda by leaking secrets to be published on the Internet.

But there have been warnings that the case, and the harsh penalties Manning could still face, could deter whistleblowers and have a chilling effect on future media investigations.

A few dozen protesters had gathered outside Fort Meade to support Manning and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group set up by Australian cyber-activist Julian Assange, expressed fury at the verdict.

In a Twitter message, the WikiLeaks group said the court’s decision reflected “dangerous national security extremism” on the part of President Barack Obama’s White House.

It also said the conviction of Manning set a “very serious new precedent for supplying information to the press.”

WikiLeaks is also working with a second American leaker, civilian former intelligence technician Edward Snowden, who is seeking asylum in Russia after revealing vast U.S. electronic surveillance programs.

His supporters have cited Manning’s trial as proof that Snowden was right to flee abroad with his leaks rather than face trial at home.

The best known U.S. rights group, the American Civil Liberties Union, gave a measured response to the verdict, but reiterated its concern about the use of draconian anti-spying laws to curtail government whistleblowers.

“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 ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

“Since Manning 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.”

Private Manning was serving as a 23-year-old intelligence analyst in Iraq when he sent WikiLeaks a cache of secret diplomatic cables and classified military reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He had admitted giving the site some 700,000 documents and pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, while firmly denying that he had intended to help America’s enemies.

In closing arguments last week, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning was no traitor but a “young, naive and good-intentioned” citizen who wanted to encourage public debate.

But the prosecution insisted Manning recklessly betrayed his uniform and his country by leaking documents he knew Al-Qaeda would see and use.

“Your honor, he was not a whistleblower, he was a traitor,” lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told the court.

This article will be updated.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

  • Dominick Vila

    The fact that the military judge concluded that Manning did not deliberately help enemies of the USA may have saved his life, but he will spend several lifetimes in jail as a result of being found guilty of the other 20 charges made against him.

    • Robert Haugh

      One can only hope.

  • Catskinner

    Since the Obama administration has decided there is no “war on terror,” there wouldn’t have been an enemy for Manning to aid, anyway.

    • Dominick Vila

      I would not be surprised if a lot of people in parts of Pakistan and Yemen disagree with the insinuation that President Obama is not focused on ending terrorism. In fact, the former Al Qaeda Master of Ceremonies will definitely disagree with that conclusion, if it wasn’t for the 72 virgins that are keeping him busy.
      There may not be a “war on terror”, a “war on drugs”, a “war on poverty”, but there is definitely a focus on undermining the ability of terrorists and enemies of the USA to carry out future attacks against our country and our interests.
      While it is true that our former enemies are more focused on industrial development, economic might, improving their infrastructure and standard of living than militarism, that has not kept them from cyber espionage and old fashioned spying for a variety of reasons. Countries like Russia and China are more afraid about the USA attacking them than we are about them attacking us. As a result, they are very interested in learning as much as possible about our resources and capabilities, and they definitely want to know more about the latest technologies we are developing for reasons other than warfare.

  • commserver

    According to Wikipedia

    “Espionage or spying involves a government or individual obtaining information considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. ”

    It is obvious that Manning didn’t have the permission of the holder of the information that was leaked.

  • Jim Myers

    Although I believe that leaking Government secrets to be an act of Treason, I also believe that the leaking of individual secrets may be warranted.

    If the person leaking the information has inside information about a specific subject, reads every word of the documents, and in good conscience, deems the classified document or documetns to be harmful to the United States, or to cause unwarranted harm to the reputation of an individual, going to an Attorney with the document might be within the bounds of legal responsibility.

    However, considering the fact that classified documents often only contain a specific piece of information that might not indicate the broader scope of activity, or might seem contrary to the larger picture regarding the subject in question, this should not be done without a lot of thought about the consequences.

    Anyone taking that action should be prepared to pay ANY price, including prosecution for Treason.

    Any person dumping large quantities of classified documents would clearly not fall within any definition of presumed innocence.

  • stcroixcarp

    I hope Obama will pardon him.