The trial of whistleblower Bradley Manning came to a close today.
Manning, the 25-year-old Private First Class in the United States Army, was convicted on 19 of 21 charges, including six counts of espionage. Most notably, however, is one of the charges that Manning was not convicted of. Col. Denise Lind, the presiding judge over his court martial at Fort Meade, acquitted Manning of aiding the enemy. Lind said her acquittal of the charge was in response to freedom of the press specialists who warned that convicting Manning of the charge could create a dangerous precedent that would impact the future of investigative journalism.
Manning’s legal team is not rejoicing about the trial’s outcome though. Manning’s exact sentencing will not be finalized until a week from now, but he could face up to 136 years in federal prison. His legal team said this is far too much for a young Private who claims he was only trying to shed light on his country’s wrongdoings.
“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's 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."
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Manning was arrested in 2010, after he confided in Adrian Lamo, a hacker he met online who ultimately reported him to the FBI. Before his arrest, Manning leaked 391,832 battlefield reports from Iraq, 75,000 reports from Afghanistan, and 251,287 State Department cables to the website WikiLeaks.
In his closing argument, defense attorney David Coombs tried to demonstrate that Manning leaked the documents in reaction to the atrocities he witnessed in America’s wars, rather than in hopes of aiding American enemies. To make his point, Coombs singled out one particular leak: video of a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down nine people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Coombs asked prosecutors if Manning was “a traitor, had no loyalty to this country or the flag and wanted to systematically harvest and download as much information as possible for his true employer, WikiLeaks." Or, on the contrary, was his client a "young, naive [soldier] with good intentions who had … humanist beliefs center to his decisions, whose sole purpose was, maybe I just can make a difference, maybe this can make a change."
In accordance with an order from Col. Lind, Coombs was not allowed to argue during the trial about Manning’s true intentions in leaking the documents. During the sentencing process, he will be allowed to do so.
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Regardless of the sentencing’s outcome, legal experts are saying that Manning and his team will almost certainly appeal his convictions, and may continue to do so until the case reaches the Supreme Court.
“This is going to go on for years. We have not seen the last of Manning,” said Eugene R. Fidell, an expert in military law at Yale Law School