It's judgment day for army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier and former intelligence analyst charged with aiding the enemy for giving troves of U.S. government secrets to WikiLeaks.
The military judge hearing the court martial in Fort Meade, Md., for the former intelligence analyst was expected to announce her decision Tuesday afternoon.
Manning faces 21 counts including espionage, computer fraud and theft charges, but the most serious is aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.
- Read the original WikiLeaks story
Prosecutors have tried to prove Manning had "a general evil intent" and knew the classified material would be seen by al-Qaeda. Legal experts said an aiding-the-enemy conviction could set a precedent because Manning did not directly give the classified material to al-Qaeda.
"Most of the aiding-the-enemy charges historically have had to do with POWs who gave information to the Japanese during World War II, or to Chinese communists during Korea, or during the Vietnam War," said Scott Silliman, a Duke law school professor and former Air Force judge.
Supporters demonstrate before decision
Manning's supporters also worry a conviction on the most serious charge will have a chilling effect on other leakers.
On Tuesday, some of those supporters are demonstrating at Fort Meade ahead of the verdict.
About two dozen people wearing "truth" T-shirts waved signs outside the army installation near Baltimore, and proclaimed their admiration for the former intelligence analyst.
Twenty-three-year-old Joel Greenfield of Arcadia, Calif., says Manning exposed the truth about military and diplomatic wrongdoing, and is now paying the price for it.
Forty-three-year-old Barbara Bridges of Baltimore says Manning gave people the information they need to hold their government accountable.
The verdict by Judge Col. Denise Lind will follow about two months of conflicting testimony and evidence.
Manning, a 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., has admitted to sending more than 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables and other material, including several battlefield video clips, to WikiLeaks while in Iraq in early 2010. WikiLeaks published most of the material online.
The video included footage of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed at least nine men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
Manning said he sent the material to expose war crimes and deceitful diplomacy.
Manning says he didn't mean to harm security
In closing arguments last week, defence attorney David Coombs portrayed Manning as a naive whistleblower who never intended for the material to be seen by the enemy. Manning claims he selected material that wouldn't harm troops or national security.
Prosecutors called him an anarchist hacker and traitor who indiscriminately leaked classified information he had sworn to protect. They said al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden obtained copies of some of the documents WikiLeaks published before he was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in 2011.
- Read more about the charges in the Bradley Manning case
A conviction on the most serious charge, if upheld on appeal, "would essentially create a new way of aiding the enemy in a very indirect fashion, even an unintended fashion," said Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. David J.R. Frakt, a visiting professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh.
In bringing the charge against Manning, prosecutors cited the Civil War-era court-martial of Pte. Henry Vanderwater, a Union soldier convicted in 1863 of aiding the enemy by giving an Alexandria, Va., newspaper a command roster that was then published.
Coombs countered that the Civil War-era cases involved coded messages disguised as advertisements. He said all modern cases involve military members who gave the enemy information directly.
Manning also is charged with eight federal Espionage Act violations, five federal theft counts, and two federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations, each punishable by up to 10 years, and five military counts of violating a lawful general regulation, punishable by up to two years each.
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