Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier responsible for the largest leak of classified U.S. government communications in history, was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, but guilty of multiple other charges under the United States’ Espionage Act, in a judgement handed down Tuesday.
A guilty verdict on the count of aiding the enemy could have meant a possible life sentence. Army judge Col. Denise Lind found Manning guilty of most of the other 20 counts at a court martial in Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning had already confessed to leaking the information to Wikileaks in February, claiming he sought to “spark a debate about foreign policy.”
The prosecution argued Manning handed over the information knowing it could end up in the hands of enemy groups like al-Qaeda, and put the lives of other American soldiers at risk. The defense argued Manning was naive, not malicious, and that he had been selective in collecting troves of diplomatic and military secrets—including the now-infamous video of soldiers in a Apache helicopter shooting and killing a group of people, including two Reuters journalists, in Iraq—to try and avoid harm.
NBC reports Manning “was convicted of illegally releasing classified documents knowing they would be accessible to the enemy,” and that his sentence will come later. CNN says Manning could face 20 years behind bars for some of the convictions.
Observers worried the U.S. government’s aggressive pursuit of a charge for aiding the enemy could send a chill through government, silencing potential whistleblowers. The New York Times argues a guilty verdict on that charge could have had “significant long-term ramifications for investigative journalism in the Internet era.”