WASHINGTON — A military judge on Tuesday found Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, but convicted him of multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act.
Private Manning had already confessed to being WikiLeaks’ source for a huge cache of government documents, which included videos of airstrikes in which civilians were killed, hundreds of thousands of front-line incident reports from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, dossiers on men being held without trial at the Guantánamo Bay prison, and about 250,000 diplomatic cables.
But while Private Manning had pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he was facing, which could expose him to up to 20 years in prison, the government decided to press forward with a trial on a more serious version of the charges, including “aiding the enemy” and violations of the Espionage Act.
Beyond the fate of Private Manning as an individual, the “aiding the enemy” charge — unprecedented in a leak case — could have significant long-term ramifications for investigative journalism in the Internet era.
The government’s theory was that providing defense-related information to an entity that published it for the world to see constituted aiding the enemy because the world includes adversaries, like members of Al Qaeda, who could read the documents online.
Private Manning’s court-martial began in early June, and the merits portion wrapped up last week with closing arguments in which a prosecutor portrayed Private Manning as an anarchist and a traitor who was merely out to make a splash, while his defense lawyer portrayed him as a young, naïve, but well-intentioned humanist who wanted to prompt debate and bring about change.