31 Jul 2013

Soldier in WikiLeaks case convicted of spying

9:40 pm on 31 July 2013

A US military judge has found soldier Bradley Manning guilty of espionage over the disclosure of secret documents, but not the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

Judge Colonel Denise Lind found Army Private First Class Manning guilty of 19 of the other 20 criminal counts in the biggest breach of classified information in the nation's history, Reuters reports.

The verdict was delivered at Fort Meade in Maryland on Tuesday. Private Manning, 25, had earlier pleaded guilty to lesser charges that carried a 20-year sentence and faces a jail term of up to 136 years when he is sentenced on Wednesday. The charge of aiding the enemy carries a penalty of life in prison without parole.

The US government was pushing for the maximum penalty for the intelligence analyst's leaking of 700,000 documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks that included battlefield reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It viewed the action as a serious breach of national security, while anti-secrecy activists praised it as shining a light on shadowy US operations abroad.

Army prosecutors contended during the court-martial that US security was harmed when WikiLeaks published combat videos of an attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship, diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay that Private Manning provided to the site while he was a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

Private Manning, originally from Crescent in Oklahoma, opted to have his case heard by a judge, rather than a panel of military jurors.

During the court-martial proceedings, military prosecutors called the defendant a "traitor" for publicly posting information that the US government said could jeopardize national security and intelligence operations.

Defence lawyers described the soldier as well-intentioned but naive in hoping that his disclosures would provoke a more intense debate in the US about diplomatic and military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not a fair trial - Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange condemned the guilty verdicts. Speaking from Ecuador's embassy in London, he called Private Manning the most important journalistic source the world has ever seen and said the military court's verdict must be overturned, the BBC reports

"This has never been a fair trial. Bradley Manning isn't guilty of anything in that he's actually very heroic for demanding government transparency and accountability and exposing the American people and the rest of the world to the crimes committed by the American government.

"It is a short-sighted judgement that cannot be tolerated and it must be reversed."