Bradley Manning acquitted of 'aiding the enemy' but not of espionage

With an acquittal, Bradley Manning avoided his most serious charge, but he still faces convictions on multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act and theft. The judge has broad discretion for sentencing.

By , Staff writer

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    Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., after receiving a verdict in his court martial on Tuesday. He was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced, but still faces convictions for espionage, theft, and other charges that could add up to a life sentence.
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Pfc. Bradley Manning was found not guilty on Tuesday of “aiding the enemy” for his role in providing documents to the online site WikiLeaks, a charge that could have sent him to prison for life without possibility of parole.

The intelligence analyst, who pleaded guilty to a number of lesser offenses before the trial began, was also charged with several counts under the Espionage Act.

The verdict was greeted with mixed feelings by Manning supporters, including the American Civil Liberties Union. “While we’re relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, in a statement.

Recommended: How well do you know the world of spying? Take our CIA and NSA quiz.

They also argued that the US government was seeking to send a statement to self-described whistle-blowers.

“Since Manning already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.” 

So what’s next for Manning?

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, will convene the sentencing phase of the trial on Wednesday.

Colonel Lind is not bound by any mandatory minimum sentences, notes Richard Rosen, former commandant of the Judge Advocate General School for the US Army and the director of the Center for Military Law and Policy at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock.

“She could theoretically give him no punishment or a letter of reprimand,” Mr. Rosen says. 

To try to prevent this, the prosecution will make its case during the sentencing phase of how Manning’s actions hurt the United States and the military. These are known as “aggravation claims.”

The defense will then have the opportunity to rebut the government’s claims, as well as present extenuating and mitigating circumstances. 

This might include arguments such as, “ 'I was only being a good American. I was a whistle-blower. I was trying to help the country,’ ” Rosen says.

He may also present “good soldier” testimony, which could include explanations such as, “ ‘Hey, I may have done all of these things, but I was really a good soldier other than this.’ ”

Since the rules of evidence are relaxed during the sentencing phase, it may allow the defense to present testimony that might have been deemed irrelevant during the trial but that might sway the judge to grant a lesser sentence. This might include describing family problems or persecution Manning may have suffered because of his sexual orientation, Rosen adds. 

Manning might also make a statement on his own behalf, which could be sworn or unsworn. The prosecution could not cross-examine Manning in the case of an unsworn statement.

The defense will likely endeavor to make the case that “nothing he did ultimately harmed the country,” Rosen adds, predicting that during the sentencing phase Wednesday, the judge “will probably bend over backwards and allow Manning to present whatever evidence he wants.”

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