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Bradley Manning verdict signals a stern warning against leaks
A military court Tuesday convicted Army Pfc. Bradley Manning of violating the Espionage Act for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, a verdict that legal analysts say likely will have a chilling effect on others considering revealing government secrets.
While Manning, 25, was acquitted of the most serious charge — aiding the enemy, which carried a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole — he still faces up to 136 years in prison when he is sentenced at Fort George G. Meade, Md. The sentencing hearing, which starts Wednesday, is expected to last most of August.
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, did not reveal her reasoning in her ruling, but David Schanzer, a former Justice Department official, said the verdict makes clear that the leakers’ intent does not matter in prosecuting them for revealing state secrets.
“If you receive a security clearance, you don’t get the right to decide when, or when it’s not, OK to leak information. The reasons that you leak are irrelevant,” said Mr. Schanzer, associate professor and director of the Triangle Center of Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. “No individual employee, especially lower-level employees like Bradley Manning, has a really complete picture of what the national security interest is.”
Manning was found guilty of 19 felony counts, including five violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, each of which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Legal analysts predicted that a stiff sentence will send a strong message to those seeking to expose government wrongdoing and bolsters the Obama administration’s prosecution of those who leak secrets to news media.
“This charge [of violating the Espionage Act] has traditionally been used for spies and traitors, not for those who leak to the media with no intent to harm the U.S.,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. “[This is] the first time that we have seen a conviction that carries this kind of potential for a heavy sentence.”
Ms. Goitein said this administration has brought more charges against leakers to news outlets than all previous administrations combined.
“Justice has been served today. Pfc. Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes,” wrote Reps. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and committee chairman, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security.”
Manning pleaded guilty in February to 10 of 22 charges for mishandling classified data and lesser charges that would have brought him 20 years in prison, but the government decided to pursue more serious charges.
Those who consider Manning a whistleblower expressed relief that he was found not guilty of aiding the enemy.
“It was wrong for the government to charge Mr. Manning with the offense of ‘aiding the enemy,” the National Whistleblower Center said in a statement. “Charging a whistleblower with the crime of ‘aiding the enemy,’ simply because the whistleblower provided information to the news media, was wrong and was designed to improperly scare other citizens into silence.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also chimed in: “Since Manning 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.”
Col. Lind deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before reaching her decision in a case that drew worldwide attention as supporters hailed Manning as a whistleblower. The U.S. government called him an anarchist computer hacker and attention-seeking traitor.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Kristina Wong is a national security reporter for The Washington Times, covering defense, foreign policy and intelligence affairs. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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