'Aiding the Enemy' Acquittal Kept a Mystery
FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - A military judge declined to explain Friday why she acquitted WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning of "aiding the enemy" some weeks earlier.
Most of the basic facts of the 25-year-old soldier's case have been undisputed since before the start of the landmark court-martial.
In February, the former intelligence specialist testified that he exposed a record-breaking load of U.S. secrets to inform the public about the hidden sides of diplomacy and warfare. The more than 700,000 military and diplomatic files that Manning sent to WikiLeaks included battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. embassy cables, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.
Defense attorneys contested only the prosecution's decision to charge Manning under statutes such as the Espionage Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and certain military violations.
Col. Denise Lind acquitted Manning on July 30 of "aiding the enemy" and a count related to the disclosure of an Afghanistan airstrike video.
At the time, she also declined to convict on the major count related to the release of a Baghdad airstrike video that WikiLeaks titled "Collateral Murder." She found in this case that the footage did not qualify as "national defense" information, which by definition is closely held. Trial evidence showed that the footage was unclassified, even though the Pentagon rebuffed multiple attempts by Reuters to obtain the footage.
Manning was found guilty of a "lesser included offense" on this count, and a few others. The conviction counts originally added up to a potential 136-year sentence, subsequently reduced to a 90-year maximum.
On Friday, Lind released her special findings only for the convictions on the major counts.
In finding that Manning "wrongfully and wantonly" caused intelligence to be "published on the Internet," she said that the leaks were of "a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others."
Lead defense attorney David Coombs spoke to Manning's supporters outside the courtroom today. He is said to have told them that Manning "was in good spirits today."
Coombs also spoke about how his client felt having his sister, Casey Major and aunt Debra van Alstyne testify earlier this week.
"Wednesday was a tough day, just because it was family," Coombs said.
The women had given the court a lengthy account of Manning's alcoholic parents. A forensic psychologist also testified that Manning had unmistakable signs of fetal alcohol syndrome from his mother's heavy drinking during pregnancy.
Major testified that Manning had been young when their mother drank down Valium with liquor in a suicide attempt. Their father left the family in the hospital and remarried another woman about a year after the divorce went through.
It had been the first time in the courtroom for 36-year-old Major who has kept a low profile during the proceedings. She spoke softly with a slight twang in her voice from her upbringing in Crescent, Okla., as she described effectively raising her younger brother while their mother drank.
Major eventually moved on, however, and Manning moved with his mother to Wales in 2001. He returned to the United States to live with his father when he was 16 and then moved in with Van Alstyne before enlisting in the Army in 2007.
Van Alstyne, a resident of the nearby Potomoc, Md., has been a regular fixture at the court-martial proceedings. Manning's parents gave rare media interviews last week with his father sitting down with Anderson Cooper and his mother speaking to Britain's Daily Mail.
Sentencing arguments will continue on Monday, to be followed by deliberations. Judge Lind indicated that she expects to reach a decision sometime midweek.
Manning's attorney indicated outside of court today that he expects the soldier to serve his sentence in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., where he has been since April 2011.