A military judge on Tuesday found U.S. soldier Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced for handing over documents to WikiLeaks, but he still likely faces a long jail term after being found guilty of all 19 other counts.
Colonel Denise Lind ruled the 25-year-old Army private first class was guilty of five espionage charges, among many others, for the largest unauthorized release of classified U.S. data in the nation's history.
The trove of documents, including battlefield videos and diplomatic cables, was a huge boost to the profile of the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website and its founder Julian Assange. Tuesday's verdict could be a blow to his efforts to encourage people with access to secret information to release it publicly.
Supporters of Manning were heartened by the not guilty ruling on the most serious charge, though WikiLeaks said the conviction represented "a very serious new precedent."
Manning, who was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he was arrested three years ago, could face up to 136 years in military prison. Lind will take up the question of his sentence on Wednesday.
The U.S. government was pushing for a life sentence without parole, which would have come if Manning had been convicted of aiding the enemy by leaking of information that included battlefield reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It viewed the action as a serious breach of national security, while anti-secrecy activists praised it as shining a light on shadowy U.S. operations abroad.
"The verdict is certainly a chilling one for investigative journalism, for people who might come into information that they believe should be part of the public discourse," said Michael Bochenek, director of law and policy at Amnesty International. "The message is that the government will go after you."
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