Army Pfc. Bradley Manning has been acquitted of aiding the enemy when he shared classified documents on U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan with WikiLeaks, but he was convicted of lesser charges, including espionage.
Military Judge Col. Denise Lind issued her verdict early Tuesday afternoon. She found Manning guilty of five espionage counts, five theft charges, a computer fraud charge and other military infractions. The aiding the enemy charge was the most severe and carried the possibility of life in prison.
Manning, though, isn't likely to avoid prison time. His sentence hearing will begin Wednesday, and the charges he was convicted of could mean 128 years behind bars, according to the Associated Press.
Shortly after the verdict, WikiLeaks, the website that served as the conduit for the release of the classified information, described the espionage convictions as "dangerous national security extremism from the Obama administration," reported the Associated Press.
Throughout the court martial proceedings, Manning's defense attorney argued that Manning's actions were well-intentioned and that he was acting as a whistle-blower — a role that's become as vital as a free media, said Richard Reeves, a lecturer at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
"Whistle-blowers are a threat to power, and power is protecting itself," he told Yahoo News. "Military security, military necessity, national security — those words carry great weight and they're trying to chill [whistle-blowing] and, in large measure, they're successful in that."
From the Pentagon Papers to Julian Assange at WikiLeaks, whistle-blowing is a way to protect free societies, Reeves said.
After the Manning verdict, social media lit up with news of the decision. Here is a sampling:
Bottom-line: #Manning did not embody the 7 Army values. Instead he acted selfishly, in collusion w/ Assange, endangering lives. Burn Manning— Lesley (@Currahee88) July 30, 2013
Manning faces 136 year MAX punishment on the crimes he was found GUILTY-- sentencing begins tomorrow.— Alexa O'Brien (@carwinb) July 30, 2013
Prior to the verdict, dozens of Manning's supporters gathered outside Fort Meade, Md. Some of them wore "truth'' T-shirts and waved signs in support of Manning, reported the Arabic news site Al-Jazeera.
Manning, 25, of Crescent, Okla., admitted to sending more than 470,000 battlefield reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables and other documents to WikiLeaks, an international website notorious for publishing state secrets.
The website’s organizers also have offered support for Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who shared classified documents that exposed the United States’ collection of millions of cellular phone call records and other intelligence activities.
Manning’s supporters and defense team argue that he did not directly hand over documents to al-Qaida and other enemies of the nation. Manning says he sent the information to expose war crimes and deceit.
Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. David J.R. Frakt, a visiting professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Associated Press that a conviction on the most serious charge would have created "a new way of aiding the enemy in a very indirect fashion, even an unintended fashion."
During the court martial hearing, prosecutors painted Manning as a traitor and said Al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden before he was killed in 2011, were able to view the documents WikiLeaks published.
(Yahoo! News Editors Dylan Stableford and Max Zimbert contributed to this report.)
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