Pfc. Bradley Manning, who handed 700,000 secret documents to transparency website Wikileaks, has been cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ – but still faces a maximum sentence of 136 years in military jail.
He was convicted Tuesday for 19 of the 21 charges he faced, including five counts of espionage and five of theft. In court, military judge Colonel Denise Lind declared Manning was “guilty” over and over again as the charges were listed, the Guardian reports.
The guilty verdicts included seven out of eight counts brought under the Espionage Act. He was accused of disclosing Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, files on Guantanamo, and embassy cables with “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the US or the advantage of any foreign nation”.
Of the files Manning disclosed, one was the now-infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video – which showed US military forces gunning down journalists and unarmed civilians in Iraq.
Manning was found guilty of causing US intelligence to be published online “wrongfully and wantonly”, with the knowledge that this intelligence “is accessible to the enemy”.
Although the over 1,000 days Manning has spent in detention – much of it in solitary confinement – will be deducted from the final sentence, it is likely he will be sentenced to much of his adult life in military jail. It will, in effect, not be much relief that he was not found guilty of ‘aiding the enemy’.
Civil liberties activists, human rights campaigners and journalists claim that the severity of the charges and the treatment of Manning set an unprecedented shift in the way investigative journalism and whistleblowing is treated by the United States government.
Amnesty International’s Widney Brown said the “government’s priorities are upside down,” adding it has “refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence, yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government.”
The American Civil Liberties Union warned the use of the Espionage Act serves as a warning shot to other potential whistleblowers and investigative journalists. “It seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future,” the ACLU’s Ben Wizner said.
In a statement, Julian Assange called the conviction a case of “national security extremism”.
“It is a dangerous precedent,” Assange said. “It is a short sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and it must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is espionage. It’s clear the last few years has seen the important backlash against the authoritarianism being exercised by the United States government by the national security extremism we see today. Bradley Manning’s alleged actions appear to be part of that, a reaction against abuse. Edward Snowden’s actions are clearly a reaction against national security extremism.”
“It’s a very interesting moment in time,” Assange continued. “On the one hand we see a collapse in the rule of law, extrajudicial assassinations, secret trials. All those things that we in the west claim as important and essential to having a liberal democracy. On the other hand, there is a greater movement than ever before in trying to establish these rights. It’s not clear which side is going to prevail, and that’s what makes this moment such an important time”.
Edward Snowden, meanwhile, is still in Moscow being denied the right to travel and the right to asylum. The trial of Bradley Manning will serve as validation that going through official channels in the United States or returning to face trial would have severe implications for Snowden.
Bradley Manning’s sentencing is expected to begin later today.