US Shows No Mercy: Bradley Manning Convicted

By in Fort Meade, Maryland

A US military court convicted Bradley Manning on Tuesday on charges related to leaking documents to WikiLeaks. Zoom
DPA

A US military court convicted Bradley Manning on Tuesday on charges related to leaking documents to WikiLeaks.

A US military court acquitted Bradley Manning of the worst charge against him, but he isn't out of the woods yet.

Before reading out the verdict she held in her hands, Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, peered out at the court room once again, looking at the prosecutors, the defense and, of course, at Bradley Manning, the diminutive 25-year-old who sat next to his brawny lawyer David Coombs. It would take a while, Lind said, as she prepared to read out the 22 charges. She then adjusted her glasses and commenced.

Yet after only about five minutes, the military judge was done. Things began pretty well for WikiLeaks informant Manning as he listened to his conviction on Tuesday, but by the end it was agonizingly painful.

The first and most serious charge against Manning was that of aiding the enemy. In theory, the death penalty can be applied in such convictions, but the government had only demanded life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole. Just life imprisonment. Manning stood. The judge looked at him and read, "Not guilty." Manning made an effort not to show any emotion, just as he had done for the past eight weeks of his trial.

Then Lind proceeded, reading out one verdict after the other. "Guilty," she said. "Guilty, guilty, guilty." In the end, it was a word Manning heard on a total of 20 out of 22 charges. Guilty of espionage, guilty of theft, guilty of computer fraud. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Responding to the conviction, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "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 cannot be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage'."

Manning's family also issued a statement. "While we are obviously disappointed in today's verdicts," they wrote. "We are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America's enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform."

140 Years in Prison

Most of the offenses carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. For some of them he would face only two years. Taken together, though, he could face around 140 years in prison -- the maximum possible sentence. In the coming weeks, the exact sentence will be negotiated at the military court at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland. Witnesses will be called to testify once again. Manning's defense attorney appeared hopeful after the acquittal on the charge of aiding the enemy.

"We won the battle," Coombs said, "now we need to go win the war. Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire." It sounds like victory. But is it?

It's clear what messages the judge is seeking to send in this trial of the largest betrayal of secrets in American history.

The first is that no mercy will be shown for whistleblowers. The United States is pursuing and treating whistleblowers as traitors. The Manning ruling is intended to have a deterrent effect for others who might seek to follow in his footsteps.

The second is that Lind stopped short of creating a precedent for the erosion of press freedom in the US.

If the court had convicted Manning on charges of aiding the enemy, it would have equated publishing stories about the documents in the media with aiding the enemy. Prior to Manning's verdict, Daniel Ellsberg -- who once leaked the Pentagon Papers to prove the sheer hopelessness of the Vietnam War -- offered some insight. "The idea that you can execute someone for an offense that had no element of intent or even specified effect," he told the Christian Science Monitor, "or that you can face life in prison or death simply from informing an enemy or potential enemy in the process of informing fellow citizens for their benefit is potentially a lethal blow to the First Amendment or freedom of speech and the press."

Last Friday, Manning's defense attorney Coombs sought to portray the difference between leaking data to the public and the enemy in this way: If, for example, you leak a troop movement from point A to point B at a certain time, then the enemy can only profit from this information if it is received directly. If the information is passed on to the public, then that troop movement will most certainly not happen because the enemy will obviously have access to that information as well.

Crackdown on Whistleblowers

Still, the fact that Manning wasn't convicted of aiding the enemy in no way diminishes the massive pressure that US President Barack Obama has applied on the media and potential future whistleblowers. Recently, James Risen, an investigative reporter with the New York Times, was ordered by a federal court to testify against a confidential CIA source -- with the threat of imprisonment if he refused to do so. Risen said he would go to jail if necessary to protect his source. Presently, the US is prosecuting six different people on allegations that they betrayed government secrets -- more than under any previous president.

Nevertheless, there have been some significant shortcomings in Manning's defense. During the Manning trial, Coombs failed in his strategy of seeking to paint a portrait of the 25-year-old as a whistleblower who did so for moral reasons, as a "humanist." Coombs repeatedly depicted his client as "young, naïve, but good intentioned." What Manning had done, he said, "is not anti-patriotic. That is something that is not anti-American. That really is what America is about -- that we take everybody."

But the prosecutor, Major Ashden Fein sought to portray Manning as a traitor out of vanity, as a soldier for whom neither the pledge of allegiance or the flag meant anything. Manning was no whistleblower, he argued -- he instead repeatedly claimed that Manning was a hacker and a traitor.

Manning confessed early on, back in February, that he had leaked the documents to WikiLeaks. He admitted to 10 lesser charges, knowing he would likely be sentenced to around 20 years in prison. It was a futile move, though, and he could now face decades behind bars.

Far away in Moscow, Edward Snowden is likely following the headlines very closely.

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1. Mercy = Yes
interested 07/31/2013
While found guilty on SOME counts, Manning WAS shown mercy. He was found innocent of the most serious charge, treason. The other items he was found guilty of were accusations he already admitted to. Lastly, one cannot judge the level of mercy quite yet, as he has not been sentenced. He could be sentenced to as little as twenty years for releasing millions of pages of classified material, including material that endangered the lives of others. Could we please have a little less sensationalism from Der Spiegel, please?
2. No Mercy?
High Hat 07/31/2013
If the US had no mercy Manning would be in front of a firing squad tomorrow.
3. A balanced judgement
japanreader 07/31/2013
Far from showing "No Mercy.." the US military court rendered a balanced judgement. What most commentators choose to willfully forget, including this newspaper, is that Manning is a serving soldier in the US military. As such, he has an obligation to follow laws and rules that transcend what a civilian may be subject to. He has never denied he was completely aware of them. He has also confessed, before the trial, that he is guilty of a number of the charges against him. The court has found the attempt by the US Government to bring charges of the gravest seriousness against him to be invalid and unwarranted. Given the fact that the information he released had very little impact at all, justice has been done. However, the next stage of this case, when Manning is sentenced for dereliction of duty that he himself admits guilt to is very important. Like anyone serving the state, be they an air traffic controller, policeman or train driver--to give a few examples that have been in the news recently--he has failed in the duty he owes to both the USA and the institution he voluntarily entered and chose to accept the rules of. I suspect his punishment won't be extreme. As this trial has progressed, Manning has increasingly come to be seen as naive. But he still had a complete understanding of what his responsibilities were, and he will receive, I think, an appropriate punishment for ignoring them. The result is that we have had a very balanced judgement. Those who want to promote a witch hunt against whistle blowers have been stopped in their tracks, and the focus of the coming sentencing shifted to the real offenses that Manning did commit.
4. Manning and Snowden are not comparable
fdbetancor 07/31/2013
There is a big difference between someone like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Private Manning is an active duty soldier with a sworn duty to obey the officers and authorities placed over him. If he felt so strongly about the issue of Wikileaks, he could have requested a discharge from the service and - as a civilian - cooperated with Mr. Assange. Then he would not have been exposed to the more rigorous trial by Courts Martial that a soldier can expect. Furthermore, the material divulged by Private Manning was not in the least related to a mass surveillance program which may or may not be beyond the bounds of legality: it was mostly U.S. diplomatic correspondence and information about he daily business of government. How exactly is that defined as "whistleblowing"? What was he blowing the whistle on? The fact that U.S. foreign service officers perform their duties abroad by sending reports back home of their impressions of foreign leaders and situations? That is what every foreign service on the planet does. Don't confuse the two issues: WikiLeaks and Prism are not related. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are not related.
5. Dear Germans: lighten up, please!
MrCharles 07/31/2013
Alexey Pushkov, a Russian MP, tweeted earlier today that Private Manning's upcoming sentencing will be an indicator of what American whistleblower Snowden would get if returned to US. Private Manning may be the younger of the two, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that he had acted in accordance with a principle from the 1945 Nuremberg Trial, which states that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.
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