Manning Did Not ‘Aid the Enemy’|by Spilling Secrets to WikiLeaks

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – A military judge acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of the controversial “aiding the enemy” charge today, but convictions on lesser charges could still put the young soldier away for the rest of his life.
     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.
     Prosecutors had claimed this made Manning guilty of “aiding the enemy” because he knew the massive files would have been a boon to al-Qaida and its affiliates.
     U.S. agents had even found some of these leaked files in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabod, Pakistan. Al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn also made a propaganda video using footage that WikiLeaks had titled “Collateral Murder,” uncontested evidence showed.
     The footage depicted a Baghdad airstrike that claimed the lives of an estimated nine to 12 civilians, including two Reuters employees.
     In a short reading of the verdict Tuesday, Col. Denise Lind ruled that these facts were not enough to convict the young soldier of the military equivalent of treason.
     Significantly, she also found that the “Collateral Murder” video 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.
     Washington Post reporter David Finkel reproduced a near verbatim transcript of the gunners’ chatter in his 2009 book, “The Good Soldiers,” Manning’s lawyers noted.
     Before she read her verdict at the 1 p.m. hearing, Judge Lind told a courtroom packed with Manning’s supporters: “If there is any outburst or disturbing conduct, I will stop and if I find there has been a disturbance, I will order the disturbing party escorted out of the courtroom by security.”
     In addition to aiding the enemy, Manning was accused of 21 charges including violations of the Espionage Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and various military codes.
     With convictions on the vast majority of these lesser charges, Manning now faces a maximum sentence of 136 years.
     The sentencing exposure left press advocacy and civil liberty groups troubled.
     “We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit that represents WikiLeaks and its chief Julian Assange.
     The organization’s press release also noted that President Woodrow Wilson enacted the Espionage Act during World War I to clamp down on political dissent and antiwar activism. They called for prosecutors to shelve the statute, which has had unprecedented use under the Obama administration.
     Reporters Without Borders also decried the mixed verdict, which they called a “blow for investigative journalism.”
     “The information that Manning allegedly passed to WikiLeaks – used by newspapers such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde in coordination with Julian Assange’s website – included revelations of grave abuses in the ‘war on terror’ launched by the Bush administration,” the group said.
     Aside from aiding the enemy, the only other charge of which Lind fully acquitted Manning was a count related to the disclosure of video taken from an airstrike on the Farah province of Afghanistan that reportedly killed an estimated 86 to 147 civilians.
     Manning admitted to disclosing the video but he insisted that he sent it much later than the date prosecutors alleged. WikiLeaks never published the Farah video.
     The timeline was essential to the defense argument that Manning leaked documents after becoming disillusioned with the possibility of addressing his concerns through the military bureaucracy.
     As Judge Lind has not yet issued findings of fact, the reasoning behind her verdicts is unknown. The U.S. Army Military District of Washington released its explanation of the verdict later in the afternoon. That press release does indicate any distinction, however, between charges where Lind ruled a “lesser included offense” instead of guilty. While a guilty finding carries a maximum sentence of eight years, the lesser included offenses carry a two-year maximum.
     The sentencing phase of trial is set to begin on Wednesday.
     Until now, the court has only allowed the parties to present evidence of what they believed to have been the potential harm caused by the leaks. Each side is expected to present more than 20 witnesses to testify about what harm, if any, the leaks caused.

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