FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The trial of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier found guilty on 19 counts of handing over classified data to WikiLeaks, is scheduled to move into the sentencing phase on Wednesday.
Manning, 25, escaped a life sentence with no parole when Colonel Denise Lind acquitted him of aiding the enemy, the most serious of 21 criminal counts brought against him in the court-martial. He still faces the possibility of 136 years in prison on the other counts.
The slightly built Army private first class was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when he was arrested and charged in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
In a court martial that stretched over two months, military prosecutors argued that Manning became a “traitor” to his country when he handed over to the anti-secrecy website a trove of 700,000 battlefield videos, diplomatic cables and other classified files.
On Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys will call witnesses to address Manning’s motives and the effects of his actions.
The U.S. government charged that the breach put national security at risk. It also thrust WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange into the international spotlight.
Defense attorneys portrayed Manning as well-intentioned but naive in believing the documents could spark a broader debate in the United States about its overseas operations.
Observers said the verdict could have “a chilling effect” on WikiLeaks by making potential sources of documents in the United States more wary about handing over secret information.
It could also encourage the United States to seek to prosecute Assange for his role in publishing the information.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over a year to avoid extradition to Sweden, where two women have accused him of sexual assault. The activist has expressed fears that Sweden might hand him to U.S. authorities.
Army prosecutors contended during Manning’s court-martial that U.S. security was harmed when WikiLeaks published videos of a 2007 attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff, diplomatic cables, and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
Manning supporters gathered at Fort Meade on Tuesday said they were relieved he had been acquitted of the most serious charge, but thought the sentence he could face was excessive.
“The remaining charges against him are still tantamount to life in prison,” said Nathan Fuller. “That’s still an outrage.”
The verdict was praised by two U.S. Congressmen - Representatives Michael Rogers, a Republican who chairs the House intelligence committee and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, its ranking member.
“Justice has been served today. PFC Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes,” they said in a statement.
Reporting by Tom Ramstack; Writing by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson