Bradley Manning acquitted of aiding the enemy in WikiLeaks case

By Pauline Jelinek

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 30 2013 1:52 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this June 25, 2012 file photo, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, right, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. The Army private charged in the largest leak of classified material in U.S. history says he sent the material to WikiLeaks to enlighten the public about American foreign and military policy on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

Patrick Semansky, File, Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. — U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy — the most serious charge he faced — but was convicted of espionage, theft and other charges Tuesday, more than three years after he spilled secrets to WikiLeaks.

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before reaching her decision in a case that drew worldwide attention as supporters hailed Manning as a whistleblower. The U.S. government called him an anarchist computer hacker and attention-seeking traitor.

Manning stood at attention, flanked by his attorneys, as the judge read her verdicts. He appeared not to react, though his attorney, David Coombs, smiled faintly when he heard not guilty on aiding the enemy, which carried a potential life sentence.

When the judge was done, Coombs put his hand on Manning's back and whispered something to him, eliciting a slight smile on the soldier's face.

Manning was convicted on 19 of 21 charges and faces up to 128 years in prison. His sentencing hearing begins Wednesday.

Coombs came outside the court to a round of applause and shouts of "thank you" from a few dozen Manning supporters.

"We won the battle, now we need to go win the war," Coombs said of the sentencing phase. "Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire."

Supporters thanked him for his work. One slipped him a private note. Others asked questions about verdicts that they didn't understand.

Manning's court-martial was unusual because he acknowledged giving the anti-secrecy website more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. In the footage, airmen laughed and called targets "dead bastards."

Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offenses that could have brought him 20 years behind bars, yet the government continued to pursue the original, more serious charges.

Manning said during a pre-trial hearing in February he leaked the material to expose the U.S military's "bloodlust" and disregard for human life, and what he considered American diplomatic deceit. He said he chose information he believed would not the harm the United States and he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy. He did not testify at his court-martial.

Coombs portrayed Manning as a "young, naive but good-intentioned" soldier who was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay service member at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. military.

He said Manning could have sold the information or given it directly to the enemy, but he gave them to WikiLeaks in an attempt to "spark reform" and provoke debate. A counterintelligence witness valued the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs at about $5.7 million.

Coombs said Manning had no way of knowing whether al-Qaida would access the secret-spilling website and a 2008 counterintelligence report showed the government itself didn't know much about the site.

The defense attorney also mocked the testimony of a former supervisor who said Manning told her the American flag meant nothing to him and she suspected before they deployed to Iraq that Manning was a spy. Coombs noted she had not written up a report on Manning's alleged disloyalty, though had written ones on him taking too many smoke breaks and drinking too much coffee.

The government said Manning had sophisticated security training and broke signed agreements to protect the secrets. He even had to give a presentation on operational security during his training after he got in trouble for posting a YouTube video about what he was learning.

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