Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy
Whistleblower faces 136 years in prison over other charges
Bradley Manning is escorted from the courthouse at Fort Meade. Photograph: Patrick Semansky
Attorney David Coombs emerged from the military court, relieved and emotional, to cheers from supporters. Many wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the word “truth.”
His client, the army private Bradley Manning responsible for the biggest leak of secret information in US history, had just been found not guilty of the most serious offence against him – aiding the enemy, a charge not used since the US Civil War that carried the threat of life in prison without parole.
“We have won the battle; now need to win the war,” Coombs told about 60 supporters of the soldier who leaked 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos to anti-secrecy group Wikileaks.
“Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire,” he said, pointing out that his client still faces up to 136 years in prison for 20 offences he was found guilty of.
The defence lawyer said he had worked for the last three years of his life against the “aiding the enemy charge”. He thanked the supporters for their backing, describing them as his “truth battalion”.
Inside the court it took less than four minutes for the judge, Army Colonel Denise Lind, to find Manning guilty on all but one of 21 charges the 25-year-old soldier faced in his court martial that has major ramifications for the ability of investigative journalists across the US to rely on leakers.
Manning was convicted of five counts of espionage, a computer fraud charge and other military offences. He was found guilty of leaking intelligence knowing it would be accessible to the enemy, releasing classified information and disobeying orders.
The army private had “no intent” to provide the enemy with classified information, the judge ruled, but he was “negligent” in releasing the documents to Wikileaks.
Manning was acquitted of one charge under the Espionage Act of leaking an encrypted video that showed a US military airstrike in Farah, Afghanistan, which killed civilians.
Small in stature and dwarfed by the mighty security presence around him in this military court of Fort Meade army base outside Baltimore, Manning stood with his three-man defence team as Lind read her verdict. Prior to the judge’s arrival, Manning sat still, speaking quietly on occasion to his lawyers. There was no reaction as the judge speed-read through her verdict on each of the charges.
Painted as a publicity-hungry, cunning and reckless traitor by the prosecution and as a naive but well-intentioned young man eager to tell the world about government misconduct by the defence, Manning will continue his battle in a sentencing hearing starting today. To his supporters, Manning is a champion of the truth who brought wrongdoing by the US military to the attention of the public.
“The aiding the enemy charge was the most sinister of the charges so we are happy that is not guilty of that one,” said Emma Cape, campaign organiser of the Bradley Manning Support Network. “We believe that Bradley Manning is a whistleblower and doesn’t deserve to spend decades in prison.”
“He exposed war crimes – this man is a military hero,” said supporter Walter Gafforio, a Vietnam War veteran from New York who was among fewer than 100 people in the small court for the verdict.
Manning, a low-level intelligence analyst, gained access to the trove of sensitive information while serving in Iraq. He has been held in military jails since he was arrested in Iraq in 2010, most notoriously at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia where he held in a six-by-eight-feet cell 23 hours a day with no natural light. He fought the boredom entertaining himself by making faces in a mirror.
In the sentencing hearing, the prosecution and defence can each call 24 witnesses to make their case for how much time Manning should spend in jail. The prosecution will go first, followed by the defence starting on August 12th before the judge sentences the classified leaker at the end of next month.
The government will point to their assessment of the damage caused by the secret material being published, while Manning’s defence will speak about his mindset when he leaked the information.
Outside the base, drivers leaving the military base shout abuse at Manning supporters holding placards at the entrance. A few beep their horns and wave in solidarity.
Chuck Heyn from north-eastern Pennsylvania, an army medic and Vietnam veteran, says the not-guilty verdict on the aiding the enemy charge is “a big shot in the arm” for whistleblowers, though he had reservations earlier about the “chilling effect” the case would have on people speaking up.
Another Manning supporter, Cathy Phelps from Annapolis, Maryland, said the charges were part of a crackdown on whistleblowers under the Obama administration not seen under any other president.
“There will be more Bradley Mannings because whistleblowers don’t think about the consequences,” she said outside the court. “They think about what is the right thing to do.”