US & Canada

Wikileaks source Bradley Manning sentencing hearing begins

Bradley Manning is escorted out of a military court in Maryland (30 July 2013)
Image caption Pte Manning was found not guilty of the most serious charge he faced

A sentencing hearing for US Army Private Bradley Manning has begun at a military court in Maryland.

On Tuesday, he was convicted of 20 charges, including espionage and theft, but acquitted of aiding the enemy.

The sentencing could take weeks, with both the prosecution and defence allowed to call witnesses. Pte Manning faces up to 136 years in prison.

He had admitted passing hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.

The website's founder Julian Assange said Pte Manning's conviction for spying set a "dangerous precedent", accusing the US authorities of "national security extremism".

Mr Assange described the soldier as the most important journalistic source the world had ever seen, and said the military court's verdict had to be overturned.

'Still under fire'

More than 20 witnesses are expected to be called for the sentencing hearing, which could take weeks.

Analysts say Pte Manning, who did not testify in his defence, could still take the stand during the sentencing phase.

On Wednesday, Maj Ashden Fein, the trial prosecutor, said the Wikileaks disclosures "have impacted the entire system" that allows military intelligence analysts to access classified information.

Pte Manning's defence lawyer is expected to say the soldier never intended to harm US national security, an argument made at length and with apparent success during the trial, as he was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy.

On Tuesday, Pte Manning appeared not to react as Judge Col Denise Lind read aloud the verdicts, but his defence lawyer, David Coombs, smiled faintly as he was found not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

"We won the battle, now we need to go win the war," Mr Coombs said of the sentencing phase. "Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire."

During the trial the judge stopped both sides from presenting evidence about whether the leaks had endangered national security or US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the prosecution and defence will be able to bring that up at the sentencing hearing.

The judge also limited evidence of Pte Manning's motives. At a pre-trial hearing, he testified that he had leaked the material to expose the "bloodlust" of US forces and the country's diplomatic deceitfulness. He did not believe his actions would harm the country.

During the court martial, prosecutors said Pte Manning systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents in order to gain notoriety.

With his training as an intelligence analyst, Pte Manning should have known the leaked documents would become available to al-Qaeda operatives, they argued.

The defence characterised him as a naive young soldier who had become disillusioned during his deployment in Iraq.

His actions, Mr Coombs argued, were those of a whistleblower.

Among the items Pte Manning sent to Wikileaks was graphic footage of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007 that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, including a Reuters photographer.

The documents also included 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and 250,000 secure state department cables between Washington and embassies around the world.

Pte Manning, an intelligence analyst, was arrested in Iraq in May 2010. He spent weeks in a cell at Camp Arifjan, a US Army installation in Kuwait, before being transferred to the US.

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