Army private Bradley Manning was today found not guilty of aiding the enemy when he leaked nearly three-quarters of a million classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, the website associated with Australian Internet activist Julian Assange.
However, the 25-year-old Manning, who has spent three years in U.S. custody, was convicted on the 20 other counts with which he was charged, including five counts of espionage and five counts of theft. These are less serious charges, but Manning could still face well over a hundred years of prison time for his convictions. Sentencing will be carried out Wednesday morning.
In February, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser counts of misusing classified data, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
At Manning’s request the case was decided by a judge, Army colonel Denise Lind, instead of a jury.
While Manning ended up being convicted of a number of serious charges and will likely spend the rest of his life in jail, his acquittal on the most serious charge is still of real significance to his defenders, who had argued that an aiding-the-enemy conviction would set a chilling precedent for those publishing sensitive information. The charge, which requires intent to aid the nation’s enemies, has not traditionally been used in cases like Manning’s. Some took the concern even further: Assange said on CNN yesterday that, if Manning were convicted, it would “be the end, essentially, of national-security journalism in the United States.”
The defense lawyers sought to portray Manning as a whistleblower, and he said in February that he had wanted to spark a national debate over what he described as a foreign policy obsessed with “killing and capturing people.” Prosecutors argued that Manning had to have known that the country’s enemies would use WikiLeaks as a resource, and at one point entered a statement into evidence that said that Osama bin Laden had some of the leaked documents in his possession when he was killed in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011.