After being convicted last Tuesday for 20 of the 22 counts against him, Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning now faces up to 136 years in military prison. In a much-publicized turn of events, however, the prosecution's most serious charge against the former Army intelligence analyst did not stick; Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over Manning's court martial, delivered a 'not guilty' verdict for the prosecution's 'aiding the enemy' charge.
Manning's sentencing, now underway, will determine for how long he must pay for leaking more than 250,000 diplomatic cables in addition to more than 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and videos.
While Manning's defense team maintains that these leaks did little to no harm, US State Department diplomats testified to the contrary last week. One State Department employee, Elizabeth Dibble, was called to testify during Manning's sentencing as to the leaks' impact in the Middle East – specifically Iran, Lebanon and Libya. Dibble testified that her office reacted to Manning's 2011 leaks with "horror and disbelief that [their] diplomatic communications had been released and were revealed on public websites for the world to see." Dibble went on to admit, however, that she found some accounts to be exaggeratory, describing reports that Manning's leaks constituted a foreign policy game-changer as "overwrought."
Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who led the Information Review Task Force in their investigation of Manning's disclosures, further offered testimony at last Wednesday's sentencing hearing. Initially, Carr testified that Manning's disclosures directly resulted in the death of an individual in Afghanistan – "an Afghan national who had a relationship with the US government" as revealed by the leaked logs. After the defense's cross-examination, however, Carr admitted that the individual's name was not actually listed in the disclosures. When asked for other instances specifically showing that Manning's disclosures directly resulted in death by the enemy, Carr simply stated that he had none.
In the wake of Manning's small victory, civil liberties groups are rejoicing, having feared that a conviction of 'aiding the enemy' would have cast a black cloud over public interest journalism. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, whose historic 1970s disclosure of 7,000 pages of documents exposed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War, further declared Manning's 'not guilty' verdict as a victory for press freedoms. "American democracy just dodged a bullet – a possibly fatal bullet," Ellsberg stated. "I'm talking about the free press that I think is the life's blood of the democracy."
Despite Manning's triumph in avoiding conviction for aiding the enemy, his expected sentencing remains bleak. "We're not celebrating," Manning's defense attorney, David Coombs, stated. "Ultimately, his sentence is all that really matters." Having just begun last week, the sentencing phase of Manning's court martial could take up to several more weeks to conclude.