FORT MEADE, Md. — The military judge in the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning decided Thursday not to drop a charge accusing Manning of “aiding the enemy.” If found guilty, Manning could face life in prison plus an additional 154 years.
In February, Manning, 25, an Army intelligence analyst, admitted to having leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. He denied that he was guilty of 12 counts, including aiding the enemy, but pleaded guilty to 10 lesser offenses that could have put him in prison for up to 20 years.
The aiding-the-enemy charge carries the death penalty, but the government had said it will pursue life in prison with no chance of parole. Under military law, aiding the enemy applies to “any person who aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly.”
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said the government had provided sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning knowingly gave information to certain enemy groups such as Al Qaeda when he passed hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in 2009.
The defense argued in court Monday that Manning did not act voluntarily and deliberately in aiding the enemy when he leaked the documents. But Lind concluded that Manning did have “actual knowledge” that the intelligence he leaked would end up in the hands of the enemy. Lind also decided not to drop a lesser charge, an offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
In his testimony in February, Manning conceded to possessing and willfully communicating to an unauthorized person all the sources of the WikiLeaks disclosure, including diplomatic cables, parts of the Iraq and Afghanistan War logs, files on detainees in Guantánamo, two intelligence memos, and the “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq.
“I found the video troubling at the time, your honor, and I still do, but it’s just my opinion, though,” Manning said in February. “As I hoped, others were just as troubled — if not more troubled.”
David E. Coombs, the lead defense lawyer, said Monday that Manning divulged the information simply to “spark reform and debate.”
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said despite Manning’s intention, some of the information should not have been leaked.
“The video arguably was a matter of overriding public interest. But many other records released by Manning and WikiLeaks had no obvious news value or larger public interest,” he said.
“Manning had privileged access to restricted information,” Aftergood said. “Not only did those records expose individuals to potential retaliation, but their publication signaled that the US could not guarantee confidentially to others.”
Professor Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, told the court in testimony last week: “Once you accept that WikiLeaks is a new journalistic organization, if handing materials over to an organization that can be read by anyone with an Internet connection means that you are handing over to the enemy — that essentially means that any leak to a media organization that can be read by any enemy anywhere in the world becomes automatically aiding the enemy.”