Former US army private Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified military documents, will learn his fate today at 19:00 (CET) when a military judge is set to announce the verdict.
During his trial by court martial, Manning admitted to releasing secret military documents to anti-secrecy website Wikileaks but denies the more severe charge of “aiding the enemy”. He has already pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. If he is found guilty of the other charges he could face life behind bars.
Manning is accused of supplying three quarters of a million classified documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In his closing statement last week, lead military prosecutor Major Ashden Fein said, “Manning had the general evil intent…he acted voluntarily and deliberately with his disclosures.”
When Manning entered his guilty pleas earlier this year he spent an hour reading a statement to the court detailing why he leaked the documents. He explained that he had only released information that “upset” him, and not any that he believed could harm the United States:
“I believed if the public was aware of the data, it would start a public debate of the wars,” he said.
The 25-year-old soldier, who has already been in custody for three years, has become a topic of hot debate both in the US and around the world. Was Manning an idealist whistleblower who became depressed and cynical about the wars? Or was he a glory-seeker who betrayed his country?
Manning’s defense team have argued that the intelligence analyst was naïve and guilty of negligence but not the “general evil intent” that justifies a conviction for “aiding the enemy”. To uphold this most serious charge, the judge must be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that Manning knew the leaked information could end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda.
Bradley Manning has, like Edward Snowden, amassed a large amount of support around the world from people who see him as a hero who stood up to the government. However, Manning has been criticised for not being more selective about the information he handed over. One defence official told UK newspaper the Telegraph, “I don’t condone Snowden’s actions under any circumstances, but whether you agree or disagree with his political agenda it seems that he at least knew what he was getting himself into…Manning was reckless and literally put people’s lives at risk.”
Outside Fort Meade, Bradley Manning supporters have started gathering. According to reporters on the scene the mood among them is low, they are predicting a harsh sentence.