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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Bradley Manning acquitted of aiding enemy in WikiLeaks trial, but still faces 130 years in prison



Bradley Manning, the American soldier and former military analyst who leaked over 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, was found today to be not guilty on the controversial charge of aiding the enemy for his role in the biggest breach of classified information in U.S. history.

However, Manning was found guilty on 20 other counts ranging from espionage to theft of government property, which could be enough to sentence him to 130 years in prison and many observers fear could set a dangerous precedent for journalism in the country.

Bradley Manning. Photo: Wiki Commons

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, said after reading the verdict she would release more details on her decision at a later date. Manning's sentencing hearing will begin on Wednesday.

Manning, 25, has been held in military custody since his initial arrest in May 2011. He had also already pleaded guilty to a dozen lesser charges related to his role in the leak.

The verdict culminates an eight-week trial at a military base in Maryland that saw prosecutors portray Manning as a rogue soldier who betrayed his oath and placed the country in a vulnerable position against future terrorist attacks.

“He was not a humanist, he was a hacker. He was not a whistleblower, he was a traitor,” stated Maj. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor in the trial.

The vast trove of documents Manning sent to WikiLeaks include diplomatic cables from American embassies all around the world reporting on major political events in their host countries. The documents also include field reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as information on detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.

One of the most prominent pieces of leaked information was the grainy black-and-white video from 2007 that showed a U.S. Army helicopter firing and killing a group of Iraqi men, initially thought to be armed militia. Among the 12 people killed in that attack was a photojournalist for Reuters.

Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, argued in his closing statement that his client is a “young man who cares about human life… who wants to inform the American public.” 

Media outlets and observers are now left to debate what the Manning verdict means to whistleblowers and the role of leaked information in the media.

The Washington Post said the verdict will shape how the U.S. government uses laws such as the Espionage Act to go after future leakers of sensitive information and other self-proclaimed whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

The Chicago Tribune wrote that the Manning decision could have a “chilling effect” on future leakers who would cooperate with sites such as WikiLeaks. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, continues to hide out in Ecuador’s embassy in London in hopes of avoiding extradition to the U.S.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders called the verdict "dangerous" and described it as a "warning to all whistleblowers, against whom the Obama administration has been waging an unprecedented offensive that has ignored the public interest in their revelations. It also threatens the future of investigative journalism, which risks finding its sources drying up."



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