Military Judge Denise Lind today rejected the defense motion to dismiss the key charge of aiding the enemy brought against Pfc. Bradley Manning in his court martial trial. But court observers say the prosecution still has failed to prove that the Army private actually intentionally assisted enemies and harmed the U.S. military.
Because of Lind’s ruling, Manning, 25, could ultimately be sentenced to life in a military brig with no possibility of parole for providing the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks with more than 700,000 classified war documents, State Department cables, combat videos and other items.
Lind said the government had provided enough evidence to show that Manning “actually knew he was dealing with the enemy” by providing WikiLeaks with material that he knew would be posted on the Internet and thus made available to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. She cited his extensive training as an intelligence analyst and the sheer volume of records that were leaked as reasons to allow the charge to stand.
“He was knowingly providing information to the enemy,” Lind said.
Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges for mishandling classified material, which could get him 20 years in prison. Even if the aiding-the-enemy charge had been thrown out, Manning still would face 154 years in prison if convicted of all the other offenses, including espionage and stealing government property.
But observers and experts who have been following the trial say the government’s case is weak.
“Basically, there has to be intent, and you have to demonstrate that that harm actually happened,” says Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy for Amnesty International. “They haven’t checked either box. They have not been able to demonstrate that harm.”
Though the judge refused to dismiss the aiding-the-enemy charge, experts say it hardly means he will be found guilty because such motions are seldom granted.
To have such a motion approved by the judge, Col. Denise Lind, the prosecution’s case “would have had to be very flimsy – almost an absence of any information going to the charge,” one lawyer anonymously told Christian Science Monitor. “So it’s not a surprise that she didn’t dismiss the charge, but that does not mean that he’s going to be convicted of it.”
“I sat through the entire proceedings and I haven’t heard a single word about how he damaged national security, hurt anyone, harmed anyone,” said Jeff Fuller, manager of the Bradley Manning Defense Fund, adding, “I was actually shocked by the prosecution not having more up their sleeve.”
But some civil libertarians expressed dismay at the repercussions of the judge’s ruling. “This ruling has far-reaching implications,” said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice in a statement. “You don’t need specialized intelligence training to know that terrorists use the Internet. By this logic, any military officer who discloses information to the media or posts it on the Internet could be charged with aiding the enemy. That’s not consistent with the purpose of the law, and it could have a dramatic, chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers.”
Closing arguments in the court martial could come as soon as Friday.