U.S. Army whistleblower still faces more than 100 years in prison despite confession, attempted plea deal, 'excessively harsh' imprisonment and unprecedented use of Espionage Act
UPDATE: Wikileaks' Assange, ACLU, others assail military court's verdict...
U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning --- who, earlier this year, was found by the judge in his military trial to have have been illegally punished by the military for months during his captivity --- has just been found not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge filed against him.
The ruling on that point was predicted by "Pentagon Papers" whistleblower Dan Ellsberg during my KPFK/Pacifica Radio interview with him in late 2010, just after Manning had been fingered as the likely leaker of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks.
While Manning was acquitted today of "aiding and abetting al-Qaida" --- an unprecedented charge in a leak case --- he may still face more than 100 years in prison for the other charges, including espionage and computer theft, for which the military judge just found him guilty. That, despite the government's "failure to demonstrate even one example of someone who was hurt" by Manning's leaks, as CNN's Jake Tapper just noted. Military convictions for sentences longer than a year receive an automatic appeal.
In January, the judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, ruled that Manning's imprisonment, which included some nine months of solitary, often unclothed confinement for 23 hours a day in a windowless cell, had been "excessive in relation to legitimate government interests". At the time, rather than dismiss all charges as the defense had hoped, she reduced his potential life sentence by 122 days.
In an attempted plea bargain, Manning had confessed to many of the charges he was found guilty of today. Manning had admitted to having leaked reams of classified information to the media, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, diplomatic cables, and raw video of U.S. Apache helicopter gunships in 2007 gunning down 11 men in a public square in Iraq. Those killed in the attack included a Reuters journalist and his driver.
The government refused to bargain with the whistleblower, and tried him for aiding the enemy under the Espionage Act nonetheless.
In December of 2010, I discussed Manning's case with Ellsberg, who has some experience in this sort of thing. He seems to have nailed it in his prediction concerning the unfounded allegation that Manning committed treason by aiding the enemy, the most serious charge then alleged against Manning, and the one for which he was acquitted today.
As Ellsberg told me at the time...
ELLSBERG: Bradley Manning is not a traitor any more than I was. I'm sure from what I've read that he in fact is very patriotic, as I was. And indeed the charge of treason in our country, in our Constitution, requires aid and comfort to an enemy with whom you adhere --- and adherence to an enemy to the disadvantage of the United States. I don't think Bradley Manning or I intended at all to be disadvantageous to the United States. Quite the contrary. To do things, as I've said, to reveal truths that would reduce the danger that our policies are subjecting Americans to. And Bradley Manning, I'm sure, does not adhere to the Taliban or to al-Qaeda any more than I adhered to the Viet Cong, which was zero. So that charge is ignorant, let's say, of what the term means in America.
• The text transcript and audio from my full December 1, 2010 interview with Daniel Ellsberg is posted here...
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UPDATE: Here is the Transcript [PDF] of Manning's judge reading today's verdict on every count against him. Sentencing will take place at 9:30am ET tomorrow morning.
UPDATE 12:31pm PT: Here are a few very quick reactions to the Manning verdict, from ACLU and others, that are worth noting...
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