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Americas

Manning guilty of espionage, not of 'aiding the enemy'

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-30

A military court found US Private Bradley Manning guilty Tuesday of most of the 21 criminal counts against him related to leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, but found him not guilty of "aiding the enemy", the most serious charge he faced.

A military judge on Tuesday acquitted former US intelligence analyst and army private Bradley Manning of "aiding the enemy" but convicted him on espionage, theft and computer fraud charges for giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The charge of aiding the enemy was the most serious of the 21 counts against him and carried a potential life sentence. Manning’s sentencing hearing will begin on Wednesday.

The WikiLeaks case involves the largest-ever release of classified material in US history. Manning’s supporters included Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who in the early 1970s leaked a secret Defence Department history of US involvement in Vietnam that showed the government had repeatedly misled the public about the war.

Manning's trial was unusual because he acknowledged giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, plus video of a 2007 US helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, a Reuters news photographer and his driver. In the footage, the airmen are seen laughing and calling the targets “dead bastards”.

Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offences that could have seen him sentenced to 20 years behind bars, but the US government pursued the original, more serious charges.

Manning has said he leaked the material to expose the US military’s “bloodlust”, disregard for human life and what he considered American diplomatic deceit. He said he chose information he believed would not the harm the United States, and that he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy. He did not testify at his trial.

Defence attorney David Coombs portrayed Manning as a “young, naive, but good-intentioned” soldier who was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay service member at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the US military.

Coombs said Manning could have sold the information or given it directly to the enemy, but he gave it instead to WikiLeaks in an attempt to “spark reform” and provoke debate.

A counterintelligence witness valued the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs at about $5.7 million based on what foreign intelligence services have paid in the past for similar information.

Coombs said Manning had no way of knowing whether al Qaeda would access the WikiLeaks website, and a 2008 counterintelligence report showed the government itself didn’t know much about the site.

The lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said Manning knew the material would be seen by al Qaeda, a key point the prosecutor needed to prove to get a conviction on aiding the enemy. Even Osama bin Laden had some of the digital files at his compound in Pakistan when he was killed.

The Manning trial unfolded as another low-level intelligence worker, Edward Snowden, revealed US secrets about surveillance programs. Snowden, a civilian employee, told "The Guardian" newspaper that his motives were similar to Manning’s, but said his own leaks were more selective.

Manning’s supporters believed a conviction for aiding the enemy would have had a chilling effect on leakers who want to expose wrongdoing by giving information to websites and the media.

Before Snowden, Manning’s case was the most high-profile espionage prosecution for the Obama administration, which has been criticised for its crackdown on leakers. The espionage cases brought since President Barack Obama took office are more than during all other presidencies combined.

The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of abuses against Iraqi detainees, a US tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and America’s weak support for the government of Tunisia – a disclosure that Manning supporters said helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.

The Obama administration said the release threatened to expose valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Manning relied on WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for guidance on what secrets to “harvest” for the organisation, starting within weeks of his arrival in Iraq in late 2009.

Federal authorities are looking into whether Assange can be prosecuted. He has taken refuge at the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations that he claims are politically motivated.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)
 

Date created : 2013-07-30

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