Is Bradley Manning a hero, traitor or something more complex? Military veterans react to verdict

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Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after receiving a verdict in his court martial. Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced, but was convicted of espionage, theft and other charges, more than three years after he spilled secrets to WikiLeaks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

After a military court on Tuesday acquitted former U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy when he released classified documents to the website Wikileaks, Yahoo News asked military service members and veterans for their reactions. Below are excerpts from some we received.

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Hero or traitor a complex question: The heart of the matter in the Bradley Manning case, to many, seems to be this question: At what point do the people of the United States, be they low-ranking enlisted men like Manning, or private citizens — like Edward Snowden, the recent whistleblower and U.S. government-labeled traitor — have the right to stand up and speak out about government abuses that are affecting not just America and Americans, but the people of the world?

Did Pfc. Manning put troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan at greater risk by leaking the information that he gathered over a period of time in 2009 and 2010? As a veteran of the Iraq War myself, I would say yes. Did he send a message to an overreaching behemoth U.S. government that it will be held to account for misleading the American people and trying to cover up wrong-doings? As a U.S. citizen, I would say yes.

Manning still faces more than 130 years in prison for his convictions of 19 of 20 lesser charges. But one message has been sent loud and clear: A U.S. government that seems to feel it can start wars based upon rumors and half-truths, and by misleading the American people, should be reminded of the adage that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

Manning may spend some time in a prison cell, but on his way down the corridor, he has revealed a little more of the man behind the curtain to a not-so-ignorant public.

— Kevin E. Lake served as a machine gunner for a convoy security team in Mosul, Iraq, as a member of the Washington Army National Guard.

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Stiff sentence would dissuade others: Manning willingly broke his word and the law. I know this because I've signed that same paperwork countless times over the years.

With this in mind, I cannot sympathize with him. Manning was put in a position of trust and responsibility, and he lacked the correct attributes for the job. He broke his word and hurt America in an incalculable way.

Is Manning a traitor or whistleblower? Downloading more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks isn't the action of a man who discovered a couple of ugly secrets and wanted to expose them. He downloaded a massive amount of classified on a wide range of subjects. This suggests he grabbed anything that had an interesting title. He may have started out wanting to expose an ugly secret, but he got foolishly wild and sloppy. He also showed a horrible lack of judgment. I have to think he is a petty young man who naively committed terribly traitorous acts. A whistleblower brings wrong-doings to the proper authorities; he doesn't pass them along to the open market.

Between Pfc. Bradley Manning's weak principles, his co-workers' lack of interest, and his supervisor's complacency, this was bound to happen eventually. A strong and harsh sentence will hopefully dissuade others from doing similarly foolish things.

— A 23-year military veteran, Mark Murphy's career has included satellite communications, housing hundreds of junior enlisted personnel, helping train F-22 pilots, developing and monitoring government contracts and even performing courier duties with the Air Force and U.S. State Department.

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Manning a disgrace, traitor: I'm disappointed he wasn't found guilty of aiding the enemy. How could he not be with the breadth and scope of the classified documents he released? What might have taken many years for the enemies of the United States to gather, he provided in one massive discharge of intel. For that reason alone, I have no empathy or sympathy for him.

This is not the 1800s. We are in the digital age and release of this intel is transmitted and received by the bad guys at the speed of light. ClassifiedInformation is just that: It's classified and further categorized by its sensitivity to military and diplomatic operations and the access should not be broadened to a wider segment of the military population.

Robert Douglas served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 until 2000, including tours in Vietnam and at the Pentagon.

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Manning faced an impossible choice: Manning is a patriot of the highest order. The great 20th century philosopher, Albert Camus, once said that loving one's country means holding it to the highest standard. If that is the case, then any time someone reveals the wrong-doings of this country to the public, the whistleblower has exercised the highest form of patriotism.

Could Manning have gone about this in a different way? Perhaps. But he knew that every one of his superiors, straight to the very top of the chain, were willing to say nothing about these violations of human decency. Is it any wonder that he did not trust military justice to do the right thing? Would anyone know about any of this information had he not leaked it?

Manning may have broken the law, but the court verdict was right: Manning is not a traitor.

Jack Camwell served in the U.S. Navy from 2002 to 2006 as a cryptologist on board the USS San Jacinto. He has direct experience and working knowledge of military intelligence.

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Manning took wrong path in reporting wrongdoing: If Manning did witness something he considered a war crime, he should have followed the proper channels of reporting it to his superiors. By leaking the information, he violated the greatest vow taken by anyone who joins the military. Because Manning admitted to leaking the information, regardless of his motives, I believe he should be punished. The verdict could have had the potential to set off a domino effect of service members sharing classified information, had Manning not been found guilty of anything. I believe with the guilty verdict on less serious charges, the message was sent to both sides.

The Manning situation is troublesome at best. With the rise in technology, and our ability to instantly access and share information, the government must ask itself: What we must do to stop other incidents from happening?

John E. Moore Jr. served in the U.S. Army and Army reserves from 1987 to 1995 -- 25th ID, 1/27th Infantry Wolfhounds, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

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Don't second-guess judge: Although Bradley Manning's conduct is reprehensible and traitorous, I support the decision of the court-martial in finding him not guilty of aiding and abetting, yet guilty of a number of lesser charges.

In the Marine Corps, I was a legal serviceman and later served in the Air Force as a First Sergeant. This 28-year career frequently had me involved in courts-martial proceedings and enforcement of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Each UCMJ article has elements that must be proven to successfully prosecute someone.

In Manning's case, he posted classified information to a website that is accessible throughout the world by many entities. In order to prove "aiding and abetting the enemy," it would have to proven he directly or indirectly provided the classified information specifically to Al-Qaida rather than a larger global audience. He certainly made it accessible to them. But was the evidence strong enough to meet the element? The court didn't think it met that threshold. We shouldn't second-guess the decision of a military law expert charged with making the decision.

SMSgt (ret) Tony Barnes spent three years in the Marines and 25 years in the Air Force. His time as a Marine Corps legal serviceman and an Air Force first sergeant gave him vast experience regarding the UCMJ.

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Manning lucky I wasn't his judge: Manning had access to top-secret communications that he should have known, by releasing to others, could have landed in enemy hands. He, like I did, took an oath, which states: "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

This young man, only 25, should have known better, and, although he may serve some time in prison on the other charges, is lucky I was not his judge because instead of life in prison, I believe that violation of Article 104 deserves the stiffest penalty: death.

— Gene Bannister served in the U.S. Army from 1989 1991 in Operation Desert Storm.

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Heart in right place, but he still erred: I understand Pfc. Manning's desire to make Americans aware of faulty ethics in the country's foreign policy. I am not saying I would have reacted in the manner he did had I disagreed with information I was privy to. Was his illegal publishing of material to Wikileaks the correct way to blow that whistle? Probably not.

But action needs to be taken and not swept under the rug. Sooner or later, the government is going to have to realize it cannot get away with everything. This nation's citizens deserve the right to know how its government is conducting its business.

We will continue to see more like Manning and Snowden, as they are witness to absurdities in this government. And, when they unveil the truth, the government will have no choice but to attempt to throw them to the dogs and scream, "Spy!" Both sides should realize there are consequences to what they do.

— Michael Hedges enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. He served in the infantry from 2002 to 2010, when he was medically re-classed to Army Finance due to combat-related injuries. He served two tours of duty in Iraq in infantry and one tour in Afghanistan in Army Finance.

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Bradley Manning verdict is a shame: One of the main lessons I took from my time in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan is that the local population's opinions of how we conduct ourselves as a unit deployed to their country and as a nation back home have a direct effect on the average soldier on the ground.

What Bradley Manning did was irresponsible and done from the point of view of someone who has never had to engage the enemy, someone who has never had to walk a patrol where the average citizen can turn against you in an instant and attempt to take your life.

Manning presents himself as a "whistleblower" and as someone who stands for the free flow of information. While the free flow of information is a good thing, it has to be moderated in certain cases and when there are lives on the line is a perfect time to exercise that restraint.

— Tim Smith served five years of active duty in the U.S. Army's 82nd and 173rd Airborne units as an infantry soldier, reaching the rank of staff sergeant. He served three additional years in the reserves after leaving active duty.

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Manning knows what he did was wrong: While in the Navy, I worked in a "secure" facility where it was necessary to have a security clearance. Security clearances are not given out freely. The government does complete background checks that often include interviewing the candidate's teachers, religious leaders and even neighbors, in person.

Therefore, I cannot see any way Bradley Manning was not aware he was releasing sensitive information. He had no authority to declassify information, and he was aware of consequences of releasing the information.

— Paul Smith enlisted in the U.S. Navy before graduating from high school, attended boot camp one week after graduation and served four years, 1967-71