Manning Acquitted of “Aiding the Enemy,” But Guilty of Wiki Leaks

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Watch WikiSecrets, FRONTLINE’s investigation into Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and the largest intelligence breach in U.S. history, and The Private Life of Bradley Manning, a profile of the early years of the young soldier now accused of leaking more than half a million classified U.S. government documents.

Army private Bradley Manning was found not guilty today of “aiding the enemy,” the most serious charge against him for giving classified documents to WikiLeaks.

But the military judge convicted him of 18 charges, including “wanton publication of intelligence” and seven violations of the Espionage Act. Manning, who is 25, faces a maximum of 136 years in jail.

Manning was charged with 22 offenses for passing more than a half-million classified documents to WikiLeaks, which published them online. For the “aiding the enemy” charge alone, which amounts to treason, he faced life in prison.

The government argued that Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, was guilty of aiding the enemy because he knew that Al Qaeda members had access to the internet when he gave WikiLeaks the classified documents to publish online.

The defense said the argument set a dangerous precedent: under that reasoning, anyone who publishes classified information online, including a journalist, could be accused of treason.

Manning already faced 20 years in prison for pleading guilty to 10 of the lesser charges in February, though the judge still had to issue a finding on each charge today. Reporter Alexa O’Brien provided a breakdown of the charges Manning faced and their individual sentences here.

Manning’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning, during which both sides will debate the actual impact of the leaks.

The U.S. government has maintained the damage done by giving the information to WikiLeaks was “substantial,” a State Department spokesman said at the time, but hasn’t provided many other details. One of the cables revealed that the former Yemeni president agreed to U.S. counterterrorism operations in his country, while he publicly said his own forces were responsible. (He was ultimately ousted from power.)

In August 2010, Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense, said that an initial review “has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure,” in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Gates said he was concerned, however, that the documents named Afghans who had worked with U.S. forces, whose lives could be endangered.

A year later, internal government reviews found that the leaks were “embarrassing but not damaging,” one official told Reuters.

It’s unclear how much of the sentencing hearing on Wednesday will be open to the public, since the government plans to call multiple classified witnesses to testify.

Manning’s trial has been followed at a distance by the mainstream press, leaving the day-to-day coverage to two independent journalists, O’Brien and Kevin Gosztola, who post transcripts and updates to their websites. The military doesn’t provide access to court filings or transcripts, and releases no there’s no official court record.

Manning was arrested in May 2010, after bragging about the leak to a hacker he’d befriended online who then tipped off the FBI. Manning spent nearly three years in prison before his trial began in June. For the first nine months of detention, he was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and was forced to sleep naked without pillows or sheets.

Psychologists who study isolation say that solitary confinement generally has long-term health risks after a period of 15 days. The U.N. has said such isolation is always “abusive” and in some cases can amount to torture.

Military officials said it was for Manning’s own protection, because they thought he was at risk of suicide, though his lawyer, David Coombs and psychologist said that wasn’t the case.

The Obama administration has charged more people under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information without permission than all other administrations combined. As a candidate, President Barack Obama promised to “encourage” whistleblowers, saying government employees who expose wrongdoing commit “acts of courage and patriotism.”

Most recently, the government indicted Edward Snowden on June 14, for leaking classified information on the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program to the Guardian. Snowden remains in an airport in Moscow, where he’s applied for asylum in Russia.

While Russia deliberates, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to top officials there, promising not to seek the death penalty if Snowden were returned to the U.S.

Holder also said that Snowden would not be tortured because “torture is unlawful in the United States.”

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