30 July 2013

Some brief thoughts on the Bradley Manning verdict

Updated (7/30/13):  Added verdict chart. I can't speak to its accuracy, but looks about right on first blush.

Earlier today, Col. Denise Lind found Bradley Manning not guilty on the top charge of aiding the enemy (which could have resulted in a life sentence), but guilty of most other charges (some of which he already pleaded guilty). I haven't followed the case all that closely, but I wanted to offer a few brief thoughts.

We don't yet know the detailed reasons for the not guilty charge, but I suspect it has something to do with the government's difficulty in proving that releasing materials to Wikileaks (or the public at large) isn't necessarily the same as giving it directly to the enemy. A fine point, perhaps, but it would seem to go to intent.

The charges that Manning previously pleaded guilty to are subject to a sentence of about 20 years. The additional guilty charges today subject him to over 100 years, even without the "aiding the enemy" charge. Whether or not she intended it, Col. Lind's decision comes off as a bit savvy because without the top charge, the court doesn't look like a rubber stamp for the government's case. On the other hand, Col. Lind has discretion to give Manning a significant sentence--given that he is subject to over 100 years, he could still get the equivalent of a life sentence. Possible, but perhaps less likely. What are the possibilities? In my estimation, ten to twenty years at the minimum, and quite possibly much more.

When will we know? Soon. The sentencing hearing begins Wednesday morning.

This verdict also raises the issue of the government's prosecutorial discretion and whether they reached too far on the "aiding the enemy" charge. It will certainly add to the criticism of the administration's aggressive use of Espionage Act prosecutions.

If you have additional questions, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments or via Twitter.
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