Bradley Manning Acquitted Of Most Serious Charge

A military judge has acquitted Army Pvt. Bradley Manning of the most serious charge against him — aiding the enemy — but found him guilty of 19 criminal charges including violation of the Espionage Act and theft of government property. Manning was accused of the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history after he passed thousands of war documents and diplomatic cables to the website WikiLeaks.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. The verdict is in for Army Private Bradley Manning. A military judge has found him guilty of 19 charges. That includes violations of the Espionage Act and theft of government property for leaking thousands of war reports and diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks. But Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge he faced, aiding the enemy. NPR's Carrie Johnson has our story.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst has come to stand for something beyond his own predicament. For more than three years now, supporters have branded him a hero for exposing military abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, while prosecutor Major Ashton Fein used his closing argument to brand Manning as something else, a traitor.

Today, Judge Denise Lind had the floor. The judge rattled off guilty verdicts, 19 in all, including several counts of violating the 1917 Espionage Act. She said Manning had passed military field reports, Guantanamo prison detainee assessments, and sensitive diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks. But on the main charge, aiding the enemy, the judge said military prosecutors failed to prove their case.

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: It seems that the prosecution overreached and overplayed its case.

JOHNSON: Steven Aftergood, who studies secrecy, has been closely following the trial. Aftergood doesn't buy the idea that Manning should get off scot-free.

AFTERGOOD: There was sensitive information that was properly classified, was properly withheld, and the government was never going to look the other way and say, well, that's okay, because it wasn't okay.

JOHNSON: Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale, put it this way.

EUGENE FIDELL: Private Manning is in a world of trouble and I'm sure he and his attorneys are not under any illusions as far as that goes.

JOHNSON: Fidell's been critical of the pace of this case, but today he says he has a different take after hearing the verdict on the aiding the enemy charge.

FIDELL: There are some points in the military justice system that I'm less crazy about, but I think you have to give the system its due. Private Manning fought the government to a draw on this particular charge and he won.

JOHNSON: Manning's family told The Guardian newspaper it was disappointed in the rulings, but happy the judge had found Manning never intended to help America's enemies. Quote, "Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform," the family statement said. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who published Manning's material, told CNN yesterday that Manning should be celebrated, not prosecuted.

JULIAN ASSANGE: And we call those types of people that are willing to risk, not be a martyr, but to risk being a martyr for all the rest of us, we call those people heroes. Bradley Manning is a hero.

JOHNSON: And Manning's civilian defense lawyer, David Coombs, told supporters at a rally last year that the case already had been one of the most long and complex in the military court system.

DAVID COOMBS: And that record will reflect one thing, that we fought at every turn, at every opportunity, and we fought to ensure that Brad received a fair trial.

JOHNSON: Coombs has told supporters he will appeal the guilty verdicts, but first, starting Wednesday morning, both sides will present witnesses to help the judge determine Manning's prison sentence. That sentence could involve decades at Fort Leavenworth or something far less than that. Steve Aftergood thinks Manning's lawyers now have a real opportunity.

AFTERGOOD: It may be that in the sentencing phase of this case, some consideration will be given both to Manning's motivation and to some of the positive consequences of the material that he released.

JOHNSON: Judge Lind has already ruled that Manning, who was held in solitary confinement during some of the time he spent in a Virginia military brig, will get more than 100 days shaved off from his sentence because of that mistreatment. He'll also get a break for the three years he spent in custody while waiting for his trial to begin. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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