"This is not justice; never could this be justice," Assange said in a statement Monday. "The verdict was ordained long ago. Its function is not to determine questions such as guilt or innocence, or truth or falsehood. It is a public relations exercise, designed to provide the government with an alibi for posterity. It is a show of wasteful vengeance; a theatrical warning to people of conscience."
The case is the most high-profile prosecution for the Obama administration, which has been criticized for its crackdown on those who leak information. It's also by far the most voluminous release of classified material in U.S. history, and certainly the most sensational since the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
The 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers showed that the U.S. government repeatedly misled the public about the Vietnam War. Their leak to The New York Times set off an epic clash between the Nixon administration and the press and led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment.
The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of abuses against Iraqi detainees, a U.S. tally of civilian deaths in Iraq, and America's weak support for the government of Tunisia — a disclosure that Manning supporters said helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
The Obama administration has said the release of the material threatened to expose valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other governments.
Manning's supporters — including Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers — have hailed the Army GI as a whistleblowing hero and political prisoner. Others say he is a traitor who endangered lives and national security.
Some 20 supporters were in the courtroom, including Cornel West, a Princeton University professor and civil rights activist, and Medea Benjamin, a member of protest group Code Pink.
"It's important to support him," said Anne Wright, a retired Army colonel. "I spent 29 years in the military, and what Bradley Manning has done is exposed government corruption and brutality."
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