After being convicted of nearly all charges, US soldier Bradley Manning faces a potential prison sentence of more than 100 years. The ruling has split the US, with some saying the conviction did not go far enough.
The ruling, read out by military judge Colonel Denise Lind on Tuesday (30.07.2013), following a complex trial and 16 hours of deliberation, surprised only a few. US soldier Bradley Manning was found guilty of 19 of the 21 charges against him, but not of the most serious: "aiding the enemy." That could have meant the death sentence.
While stationed in Iraq from November 2009 to May 2010, the now 25-year-old leaked some 700,000 secret documents to anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. Among them was a video that showed an apparently deliberate attack by a US helicopter in Baghdad, during which unarmed civilians were killed.
Charge of aiding the enemy: ridiculous or justified?
Lawrence Korb, who advised the Reagan administration in matters of security, calls the verdict significant and fair. "There's no doubt about the fact that [Manning] released documents that he knew he shouldn't have. He already acknowledged that," Korb, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told DW.
"The real question was whether the information that he got out to the public domain - did that aid the enemy or undermine America's efforts in the 'war on terror'? I never believed that. Saying that al Qaeda did not know that we were trying to go after them is ridiculous. They already knew that," he said.
The trial has divided the American public, and experts in Washington also have differing views. Contrary to Korb, Mark Jacobsen, a senior trans-Atlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, sees the charge of supporting the enemy as justified.
"I would have been fine with a guilty verdict for aiding the enemy," he said. "The jury deliberated this but just did not feel that this was a count where they could find him guilty."
Clear message to imitators
However, Jacobsen still see the ruling as positive.
"The most important issue is that Manning was convicted on nearly all the other charges considered by the judge. This is a clear message to those who would leak classified information, and put the United States and her allies, and the men and women who serve these nations, at risk."
In the current trial, underway since June, Manning had declared himself guilty of 10 of the 21 charges, among them espionage and computer fraud. He rejected the charge of aiding the enemy, however.
For journalist James Bamford, well known for his books on the recently heavily criticized National Security Agency, Manning's actions did not amount to aiding the enemy. Bamford said Manning may have released many, many documents, but they were not very sensitive. Indeed, most of the documents should not have been classified as secret by the government in the first place, he said.
Bamford told DW that in his view, Manning did a great service to the public at great personal risk. "The most important piece of information that I saw shows how the Obama administration, how Obama himself, lied to the American public numerous times about our attacks in Yemen...[where] the US fired cruise missiles that were loaded with cluster bombs. These cluster bombs killed many, many civilians," he said.
Bamford said due to their devastating destructive force, cluster bombs are outlawed in 109 countries. "And when it was discovered that [the bombs] killed many women and children and destroyed a village, Obama actually denied that the US had anything to do with it," he added.
Obama administration cracking down on traitors
WikiLeaks has condemned the verdict of the military court, accusing President Barack Obama of "national security extremism." Many experts have agreed that the ruling will serve as an example to those intending to use Julian Assange's platform for the future publication of secret documents.
"This administration has prosecuted more people for espionage than all of their predecessors combined," said Korb. "I do think that they wanted to make an example of [Manning], to prevent other people from doing this, which is why they didn't accept his guilty plea to the first 15 charges, which would have gotten him up to 20 years in jail. In my view, that's more than enough if you want to deter people."
For the prosecution, as well as some politicians, members of the media and the public, Manning is a traitor. For his supporters, however, he is a courageous fighter for the truth. Bamford pointed out that Manning did not release any documents for money. For him, Manning is a whistleblower, an informant.
Impact on the Snowden case
It can be assumed that this ruling will be read carefully by two people in faraway Moscow: President Vladimir Putin and Edward Snowden. For Marc Jacobsen, of the German Marshall Fund, the verdict sends a clear message to Snowden and potential imitators.
"The United States is able to conduct a free and independent trial. And if you stand before the court, you will learn that you can be acquitted for certain charges but convicted of others. What I would say to Edward Snowden is: 'Come back to the United States. Sit down with a free and fair judicial system and let the court decide.'"
Manning is said to have silently accepted the verdict. "We won the battle, now we need to go win the war," said Manning's defense lawyer David Coombs, according to the Associated Press. Manning's sentencing will start on Wednesday (31.07.2013), and could add up to more than 100 years in prison.