FORT MEADE, MD —
A military judge in Maryland has found Army Private Bradley Manning guilty of espionage - but not aiding the enemy - by leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning could now get a life sentence, and the case sets a precedent on how the U.S. government is willing to deal with intelligence leaks in the Internet era.
After three years in custody that included time in solitary confinement, the verdict is in for Bradley Manning: guilty of espionage.
He was acquitted of the most serious charge: aiding the enemy. But the espionage conviction may still get him a maximum sentence of 136 years in prison.
Some of the leaked files were found in the hideout of Osama bin Laden.
Manning earlier pleaded guilty to what is being called the largest leak of secret U.S. documents in history: 700,000 files sent to WikiLeaks while he was deployed in Iraq. They included this video of a U.S. helicopter crew attacking civilians in Baghdad.
Those disclosures led civil libertarians to rally behind the 25-year-old intelligence analyst. On the morning of the verdict - as they did throughout the case - his supporters demonstrated outside Fort Meade.
“He represents the American desire for freedom of information, for democracy, where we hold our leaders accountable, for direct governance by the people," said Manning supporter Emma Cape.
But to the U.S. government, he's a traitor who put the lives of U.S. troops and U.S. national interests in danger.
Jeffrey Gordon is a former spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We're in a 21st century conflict and a big part of that conflict is a battle of ideas. So if you can embarrass the United States, if you can make them look bad in the eyes of the world, that's actually part of war. It's asymmetric war. I think Bradley was a frontline warrior against his own country," he said.
The defense sought to portray Manning as a young, naive, and well-meaning humanist. Since his arrest three years ago, details have emerged of emotional problems and resentment against his own government that observers say raise questions about why the military put him in a sensitive position. Larry Korb is a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense.
“Before he deployed to Iraq, his commanding officer said, 'I don't know if we should deploy this guy. He's got all kinds of mental problems, but we're desperate,' so they put him over there. So basically, what happens if you take someone who doesn't belong there, you put them into a situation, you're asking for trouble," he said.
Korb and Manning's supporters believe the government went too far in charging Manning with aiding the enemy and in the end, the judge ruled the evidence did not support it. But the verdict also shows the government will convict those who leak information to expose alleged wrongdoing.
The Manning case was tried at Fort Meade, in the shadow of the National Security Agency where Edward Snowden was a contractor. He recently leaked secret documents on government surveillance of private citizens.
Manning's sentencing phase could take weeks, and the judge will decide if he'll spend the rest of his life in prison.