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Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, faces up to 136 years for other charges

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Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning

As she said she would, Army Colonel Denise Lind has delivered her verdict in the Bradley Manning case, finding him not guilty on the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), aiding the enemy is a capital offense, though prosecutors said they would only ask for life in prison. After Manning pled guilty to 10 counts through a process called "exceptions and substitutions," the government chose to move forward with all 22 offenses, leaving Manning to face the possibility of life in prison plus 154 years.

Manning avoids the most serious charge against him, which could have meant life in prison

Today's verdict means Manning escapes the life sentences for aiding the enemy, but still faces a potential maximum of more than 130 years in prison, being found guilty for violations of the Espionage Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and military law.

Critics warned of a "chilling effect" on national security reporting

The aiding the enemy charge was particularly controversial, as it relied on what the defense described as a novel legal interpretation. Prosecutors argued that by providing documents to WikiLeaks, Manning "indirectly" aided the enemy, because any enemy could access the material via the internet, a fact he should have known given his training as an intelligence analyst. Attempting to prove the charge, the government called a member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden to testify about WikiLeaks material found during the raid.

Critics warned of the potential "chilling effect" such a legal interpretation of "aiding the enemy" could have on reporting, particularly surrounding national security. Prosecutors acknowledged that had Manning provided the material to The New York Times, he still would have been subject to prosecution under that understanding of the law. Manning's defense called Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor, to testify about WikiLeaks as a modern, digital journalistic entity, and against the idea of "indirectly" aiding the enemy through internet publication.

The court-martial will now move into the sentencing phase. Judge Lind ruled irrelevant any discussion of motive or damage (or lack thereof) during the trial, but those questions will likely return during sentencing. The prosecution plans to call at least 13 witnesses, most of whom will testify in closed, classified sessions about the effect of the WikiLeaks disclosures. The defense will likely emphasize Manning's motives as a mitigating factor. As with the trial phase, responsibility for sentencing belongs solely to Judge Lind.