The case, tried in a small courtroom at Fort Meade, Md., an installation that includes the National Security Agency, unfolded amid a heated national conversation about the right balance between government secrecy and civil liberties — a debate fueled by recent revelations about the scope of U.S. anti-terrorism surveillance programs.
In charging Manning with aiding the enemy, government prosecutors argued that the former intelligence analyst’s decision to release diplomatic cables and battlefield reports amounted to the highest form of treason.
Lind did not buy that argument. But her verdict, which marked the first major espionage conviction during the Obama administration, is certain to set markers in the debate over
government secrecy and whistleblower protections.
Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, said he was pleased by the verdict, but he signaled that the decisive moment will come during the sentencing phase of the court-martial, which opens Wednesday and could last several weeks.
“We won the battle, now we need to go win the war,” Coombs said after leaving court. “Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire.”
Lind also acquitted Manning, 25, of one count of violating the Espionage Act that stemmed from his leak of a video that depicted a deadly U.S. military airstrike in Afghanistan’s Farah province.
Military prosecutors did not speak publicly after the verdict. Some lawmakers said the case served as a reminder that the government must do more to prevent the disclosure of classified information, citing the disclosures about U.S. surveillance programs by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“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,” said a statement issued by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, on the House Intelligence Committee.
Legal precedent feared
The eight-week trial at Fort Meade offered a gripping account of Manning’s transformation after he was deployed to Iraq in 2009. Prosecutors asserted that, after being startled by what he came to view as egregious U.S. wartime misconduct, Manning became a mole for the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, using his access to classified information to collect more than 700,000 documents that ultimately became public. They ranged from sensitive detainee assessments to diplomatic dispatches, some decades old, that embarrassed their authors and angered their subjects.