An Army judge convicted Pfc. Bradley Manning of espionage and theft but acquitted him of the most serious charge—aiding the enemy—stemming from his decision to spill state secrets to WikiLeaks.
If convicted of aiding the enemy, Manning could have faced life in prison. But even with the 19 lesser charges, he faces up to 136 years, an effective life sentence. He already pleaded guilty to several lesser charges. The sentencing hearing begins tomorrow.
“We won the battle, now we need to go win the war,” David Coombs, Manning’s attorney, said of the sentencing phase. “Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire.”
Manning was arrested in 2010 after giving classified videos, battlefield reports, and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, which shared them with newspapers and published them online. Prosecutors maintained the leaks helped al-Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden, by giving them clues about how much the United States government knew about their operations. But Col. Denise Lind, the judge in the case, ruled the government did not prove Manning knew the documents would end up in enemy hands.
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 claimed he chose material he believed would not harm the United States and he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy. He did not testify during his court-martial.
From his refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Manning’s trial has never been fair. He called the verdict “a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism.”
U.S. authorities are investigating the possibility of prosecuting Assange for his participation in perpetrating the leaks. Prosecutors claim Assange played a key role in guiding Manning toward what secrets to “harvest” for the anti-secrecy website.
Assange, an Australian native, fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual assault case. He claims he fears the United States will try to kill him if he comes out of hiding.