By Carlo Muñoz - 07/31/13 01:04 AM EDT
Former Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning was acquitted Tuesday of providing aid to the enemy but found guilty of five counts of espionage.
The decision means Manning could spend the rest of his life behind bars; the maximum sentence for the charges is 136 years, Army officials with the Military District of Washington told The Hill.
But Army Judge Col. Denise Lind found the 25-year-old Army private not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faced. That charge carried a life sentence.
Lind also found Manning guilty of five charges of theft during Tuesday’s military hearing at Fort Meade, Md., as well as various lesser charges. He had already pleaded guilty to 10 other offenses.
Manning’s legal defense team will find out whether their client will be locked up for his entire natural life during a sentencing hearing set for Wednesday morning at Fort Meade, according to Army officials.
Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, Lind denied a request by Manning’s defense team to have the aiding the enemy charge dropped.
At the time, Lind said Manning’s lawyers had not presented enough evidence to merit dismissing the charge.
Lawmakers praised Lind’s ruling, saying “justice has been served” with Manning’s conviction on espionage and federal theft charges.
“Manning harmed our national security, violated the public’s trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in a joint statement Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill on Tuesday that he respected Lind’s decision, in light of the harmful effect the leaks had on U.S. national security
“It’s one of the more serious things I’ve seen a military member do since I’ve been around for 30 years,” Graham said. “People who say he’s a hero are misguided in terms of who a hero might be.”
Rogers and Ruppersberger said their committee plans to continue cooperation to improve safeguards on highly-senstive and classified information from becoming public.
“The House Intelligence Committee continues to work with the intelligence community to improve the security of classified information and to put in place better mechanisms to detect individuals who abuse their access to sensitive information,” according to their joint statement.
The information that Manning leaked included classified State Department cables between Washington and various diplomatic outposts.
Manning also sent classified video of U.S. air strikes in Iraq where civilians were injured or killed.
He provided a video that showed American attack helicopters firing on foreign journalists in Iraq when a news crew was mistaken for a group of insurgents.
Manning supporters claim his actions shed much-needed light on flawed American diplomatic, military and intelligence operations.
However, Army prosecutors argued successfully that, by making that information public, Manning essentially hand-delivered U.S. state secrets to American adversaries like al Qaeda, the Taliban and other global terrorist organizations. For several months, Manning abused his access to top-secret information and “systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy,” Army prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said during his opening statement.
Manning’s attorneys argued he carefully picked out which documents to leak in an attempt to prevent any undue harm to his fellow soldiers still fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Civil rights activists claim Manning had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment since being taken into custody in 2010 and is being unfairly persecuted by the Obama administration for disclosing the information.
Manning’s conviction “makes clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future,” Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Tuesday.
Published at 1:16 p.m. and last updated at 9:04 p.m.