WASHINGTON -- A military judge on Tuesday acquitted Army Pfc. Bradley Manning of the most serious charge against him but found the former intelligence analyst and self-styled whistleblower guilty of various crimes involving purloined documents turned over to the WikiLeaks website.
In the most highly scrutinized court-martial in years, Army Col. Denise Lind acquitted Manning on a charge of aiding the enemy. A conviction could have sent the 25-year-old Manning to prison for life without possibility of parole.
But following a nearly two-month trial held at Fort Meade, Md., outside of Washington, Lind found Manning guilty of 20 other counts, including espionage violations, related to the theft and distribution of some 700,000 digital government documents. Manning provided the documentary treasure trove to WikiLeaks, which publishes material from U.S. and foreign corporations and governments.
Lind will sentence Manning after another extended hearing that starts Wednesday and will include additional testimony, some of it heard in closed session because of its sensitive nature. In theory, Manning still could face a sentence of upward of 136 years.
The split verdict drew a mixed response from Manning’s supporters and sympathizers.
“While we’re relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge,” Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement, “the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.”
Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, added outside of the courtroom Tuesday afternoon that “today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire.” Bradley Manning Support Network spokesman Nathan Fuller said he was both relieved by the aiding-the-enemy acquittal and “totally outraged” by the Espionage Act convictions.
Prosecutors had summoned more than 80 witnesses as they cast Manning as a “traitor” and a “calculating and self-interested” man who betrayed his country during a deployment to Iraq that began in October 2009. While working at Forward Operating Base Hammer east of Baghdad, Manning copied myriad files from military computer networks and provided them to WikiLeaks.
“His mission, as an all-intelligence analyst, was a special trust,” Army Maj. Ashden Fein said during his closing argument last week. “But within weeks of arriving at Iraq, he abused and destroyed this trust with the wholesale, indiscriminate compromise of hundreds of thousands of classified documents.”
Manning had admitted conveying the documents to WikiLeaks with the help of his personal Apple Macintosh laptop computer, and he already had agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges.
“He was hoping that, if people knew the true casualty figures in Iraq, that people would be alarmed by that,” Coombs, the defense attorney, said during his closing argument Friday. “He was hoping that, if people read the diplomatic cables, they would be alarmed by what we are saying about other countries, how we are not always doing the right thing.”
An Oklahoma native, Manning had enlisted in the Army in 2008, gained assignment with a top-secret clearance to the New York-based 10th Mountain Division, and then was arrested in May 2010. His subsequent detention under Spartan conditions at a Marine Corps brig contributed to the sympathy he attracted from some political quarters.