Military judge finds Manning guilty of most charges

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier who became a source for WikiLeaks, is found not guilty of "aiding the enemy," but he still could spend many decades in a military prison.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
4 min read
Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier who faced a court martial for providing documents to WikiLeaks, in a file photo.
Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier who faced a court martial for providing documents to WikiLeaks, in a 2012 file photo. Getty Images

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier who provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents, was found guilty of nearly all the charges filed against him, but not guilty of aiding the enemy.

Col. Denise Lind, the judge presiding over an eight-week court martial in Fort Meade, Md., announced the verdict today, which could mean Manning would spend multiple decades in a military prison with only a slim chance of parole.

Manning's ultimate sentence, however, has yet to be determined and is likely to be appealed. Manning's attorney, David Coombs, previously has said he planned to call as many as 24 witnesses during the sentencing portion of the proceedings, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning.

Federal prosecutors had sought to portray Manning's decision to provide files to WikiLeaks as tantamount to providing those files directly to Al Qaeda and other sworn enemies of the United States. "Worldwide distribution, that was his goal," Major Ashden Fein said during closing arguments last Friday (PDF). "Manning knew the entire world included the enemy ... by giving intelligence to WikiLeaks, he was giving it to the enemy and specifically Al Qaeda."

That argument has alarmed First Amendment advocates and angered activists, who showed up outside the main gate at Fort Meade in anticipation of today's verdict. Dozens of rallies around the world in defense of Manning were held last weekend, thanks to local activists and the Bradley Manning Support Network.

"Manning's lips were drawn tight, jaw tense," wrote journalist Xeni Jardin on Twitter. "He drank water from bottle, then folded hands tightly across chest as we awaited judge entrance." Manning was seated at the defense table next to his attorney.

In an unusual move last fall, Manning offered to plead guilty to a subset of the 22 charges -- the less serious ones -- but not aiding the enemy. That partial guilty plea is permitted under the military's Manual for Courts-Martial (PDF).

Manning told the court in February that he leaked classified files to expose government wrongdoing.

"They seemingly delighted in the bloodlust they had," said Manning, who provided WikiLeaks with a video showing U.S. troops in Iraq destroying a vehicle that was preparing to rush a wounded Reuters journalist to the hospital. "This seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass."

In 2011, then-Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote that the leaked State Department cables "helped end this stage of the Iraq war" and that "whoever leaked those cables is responsible for one of the most consequential, beneficial and noble acts of this generation."

Adrian Lamo, the ex-hacker who turned in Manning to military authorities after a series of instant message chats, told CNET in 2011 that he has no regrets about his role. "Sometimes you need to consider the good of the many versus the good of the one," said Lamo, who was vilified in the hacker community as a result.

A log excerpt shows Manning wrestling with releasing the files:

(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time...say, 8-9 months...and you saw incredible things, awful things...things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC...what would you do?
(12:16:38 PM) bradass87: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter...
(12:17:47 PM) bradass87: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
(12:21:24 PM) bradass87: say...a database of half a million events during the iraq war...from 2004 to 2009...with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures...? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?
(12:22:49 PM) bradass87: the air-gap has been penetrated... =L

The stiff penalties that Manning faces -- including the possibility of more than 100 years in prison -- have been cited as a reason that Edward Snowden left the country before his identity was revealed as the source of top secret National Security Agency documents. Snowden's leaks confirming bulk warrantless surveillance on Americans have roiled Washington D.C. and sparked attempts to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange released a statement after the verdict defending Manning and attacking the U.S. government. "The Obama administration has been chipping away democratic freedoms in the United States," said Assange, who remains in Ecuador's embassy in London. "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."

"This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower," Assange said. "It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short-sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage.'"

Last updated at 4 p.m. PT