Update: According to the New York Times, “A military judge on Tuesday found Pfc. Bradley Manning not guilty of “aiding the enemy” for his release of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks.”
The military judge is expected to render her verdict this afternoon on whether Pfc. Bradley Manning aided the enemy when he released 700,000 classified documents to the website WikiLeaks.
Earlier this month, Judge Denise Lind rejected the defense motion to dismiss the key charge of aiding the enemy, but court observers say the prosecution still has failed to prove that the Army private 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 the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
In her earlier ruling, 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 be made available to al-Qaida 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 was weak.
“Basically, there has to be intent, and you have to demonstrate 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.
“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.”
During the trial, Army prosecutors made the case that U.S. security was damaged when the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website published combat videos of an attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship, diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay that Manning provided to the site while he was a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.
Lind said on Monday that she plans to issue her verdict in the case at 1 p.m. EDT on Tuesday in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, who continues to be holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, said, “There’s been no accusation in this entire case that any person has come to harm” based on information Manning gave to WikiLeaks.
Assange told CNN’s Jake Tapper that contrary to the charges leveled against him by the U.S. government, Manning was a “hero.”