FORT MEADE, Md. — More than three years after U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was arrested for giving classified secrets to WikiLeaks, a military judge acquitted the former intelligence analyst today of aiding the enemy but convicted him of espionage, theft and computer fraud charges.
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.
The charge of aiding the enemy was the most serious of 21 counts Manning faced and carried a potential life sentence. His sentencing hearing on the convictions begins Wednesday.
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.
Defense attorney David 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.