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...
By Brad Friedman on 7/30/2013, 11:36am PT  

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...

From the ACLU...

"While we're relieved that Mr. Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act," said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future."

Also, a few tweets of note...

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UPDATE 4:22pm PT: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rings in with a statement excoriating the military court as "never a fair trial" and the Obama administration for "chipping away democratic freedoms in the United States" and "weakening freedom of the press." Here's the first part of Assange's full statement:

The 'aiding the enemy' charge has fallen away. It was only included, it seems, to make calling journalism 'espionage' seem reasonable. It is not.

Bradley Manning's alleged disclosures have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions, and induced democratic reform. He is the quintessential whistleblower.

This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage'.

President Obama has initiated more espionage proceedings against whistleblowers and publishers than all previous presidents combined.

In 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on a platform that praised whistleblowing as an act of courage and patriotism. That platform has been comprehensively betrayed. His campaign document described whistleblowers as watchdogs when government abuses its authority. It was removed from the internet last week.