A military court on Tuesday acquitted former U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning aiding the enemy by disclosing a trove of secret U.S. government documents and classified video to the Wikileaks website but convicted him on a number of lesser charges.
An Army judge on Tuesday acquitted Manning of the most serious charge against him but found the former intelligence analyst turned whistleblower guilty of espionage, a mixed verdict that dealt a rebuke to military prosecutors who sought to prove that the largest leak in U.S. history had helped al-Qaeda.
A conviction on that charge could have sent the 25-year-old Manning to prison for life without possibility of parole but he could still face a maximum of 136 years in prison.
Concluding a nearly two-month trial held at Fort Meade, Md., outside of Washington, the judge, Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of 19 of 20 lesser crimes he was charged with, including several violations of the Espionage Act.
“One message has been sent loud and clear,” said Kevin E. Lake served as a machine gunner for a convoy security team in Mosul, Iraq, as a member of the Washington Army National Guard. “A U.S. government that seems to feel it can start wars based upon rumors and half-truths, and by misleading the American people, should be reminded of the adage that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Among 750,000 pages of classified material that Manning provided to WikiLeaks were videos and dossiers that pointed to potential human rights violations – including breaches of international humanitarian law – by U.S. troops and the CIA – that exposed some of the darker aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amnesty International released a statement saying that the court’s decision was evidence of misplaced priorities in the administration.
“The government’s priorities are upside down. The U.S. government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence,” said Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International. “Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behavior by the government.”
“Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero,” said Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland who nominated Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A petition to free Manning has been removed from the White House website while more than 130,000 people are supporting a pardon for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“I was Bradley Manning,” said Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the Pentagon Papers and a tireless champion of the persecuted whistleblower. “I did decide… that the fact that [the Pentagon Papers] might help educate the public and end the war was worth my life. I strongly suspect … that the same is true of Bradley Manning.”
Vice President Joe Biden vilified Manning and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who published the material in a 2010 appearance on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press” but after the verdict, the White House declined to comment on the case saying, “The military justice system is charged with enforcing the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
“The Obama administration has been chipping away democratic freedoms in the United States,” said Assange, in statement. “With today’s verdict, Obama has hacked off much more. The administration is intent on deterring and silencing whistleblowers, intent on weakening freedom of the press.”
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