At 1 PM EST, a military court handed down the long-awaited verdict in the case of United States v. Bradley Manning, finding him not guilty of the most serious charge against him, that of “aiding the enemy,” in leaking thousands of government and military documents. Manning has, however, been found guilty of another 19 charges, including 5 counts of espionage.
Manning has been both vilified and lionized during his time in the spotlight and today’s conclusion of his trial will likely bring those two sides back into debate over what Manning’s saga means for the ongoing debate between secrecy and security in the United States. While the sentences for the other charges he was found guilty of remain to be decided, here’s what you need to know about the case:
Private First Class Bradley Manning joined the U.S. Army in 2008, training as an intelligence analyst after his graduation from basic training. Reports indicate that before and during his service, Manning was dealing with various issues, including a history of depression and possible bullying for being openly gay in a time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In 2009, Manning was deployed to Iraq’s Forward Operation Base Hammer, from which he had access to the various classified networks that at the time were available to any and all analysts with very few restrictions. It was while in Iraq that Manning was arrested in May 2010 on allegations of passing on documents and videos to Wikileaks. After three years in detention, Manning’s trial finally began in June of this year.
The first leak included videos passed along to Wikileaks showing the U.S. military opening fire on a crowd of mostly unarmed Iraqi civilians. The next, much larger, drop of information showcased a failing war effort in Afghanistan and a flailing U.S. attempt to keep the country together during a time when the U.S. focus was on Iraq. That was soon followed up with a similar drop of documents related to the war in Iraq. Both of the troves were released through a series of agreements among the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel newspapers to redact the names of sources and anything they believed would harm personnel serving in the field.
The final set of documents published from the cache Manning passed to Wikileaks was the massive repository of U.S. diplomatic cables that became known as Cablegate. Ranging from 1966 to 2010, the documents — all of which were classified as Secret or below — painted a clearer picture of the inner workings of international diplomacy than had ever been made public. Several deals between the U.S. and other countries related to counterterrorism — including with Yemen and Pakistan — were brought to light through this document dump, and some observers say they helped spark the protests that would become the Arab Spring.
Critics, however, allege that the release of the diplomatic documents made the conducting of international relations all the more difficult — particularly after the accidental release of all of the cables in full — and that several informants listed in the unredacted Afghan cables have since faced harsh retribution and possibly death at the hands of the Taliban.
A large part of the confusion surrounding both the charges and the proceedings of Manning’s trial has been the venue in which it has taken place. Due to the fact that Manning was still in the Army at the time of the leaks, his case wasn’t ready-made for a civilian court. Instead, the U.S. military opted to place Manning through a court-martial, with military appointed prosecutors, defense, and judges.
Manning stands accused of 21 charges under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, including several that have been incorporated from the civilian code. Manning has already plead guilty to several of the lesser charges, including many of those involving computer fraud or abuse. What remains include charges of failures to obey a lawful order, in this case ignoring the protection of classified material and circumventing security software, and several counts charged under the Espionage Act — including delivering national defense information to “persons not entitled to receive it.”
Most serious of the charges Manning faced was one count of UCMJ 104, “Aiding the Enemy,” which has the distinction of also being the most controversial of the charges against him. According to the statute, the military had to prove that Manning aided “the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things” or “knowingly harbors or [protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly.”
If Manning had been found guilty, the sentence would have come with a likely life sentence in prison and the possibility of being awarded the death penalty. A conviction from Army Col. Denise Lind would possibly have had wide-ranging ramifications, as it would be the first time that such a verdict would be handed down to someone who did not directly pass along information, having more often been used against prisoners of war who provided information while in captivity.
Treatment In Detention
Supporters of Manning allege that during the time before he was officially charged, Manning was subject to mistreatment from the U.S. military. This includes being forced to stand for hours on end, being granted little in the way of bedding during his time in solitary confinement, and being stripped of his clothing. P.J. Crowley, at the time spokesman for the State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton, spoke out against Manning’s treatment and later resigned, saying he had lost the White House’s “trust and confidence.” (Crowley has also said he opposes the charge against Manning of aiding the enemy.)
Then-senator, now Secretary of State, John Kerry at the time defended Manning’s treatment as a protective measure. “There are concerns about what is happening, but a strong argument is being made that they’re trying to preserve his safety, they don’t want him harming himself, and using his own clothing to hang himself, or do something like that,” Kerry said. Kerry’s statement conforms to what military prosecutors said of Manning early in his detention, deeming him a suicide risk due to his history of depression.