Manning verdicts are 'dangerous precedent' - Assange

Julian Assange described Bradley Manning as a "quintessential whistleblower" in a video released by Wikileaks

Julian Assange, founder of the anti-secrecy organisation Wikileaks, has said the conviction of US Army Private Bradley Manning on spying charges is a "dangerous precedent".

Pte Manning, 25, had admitted leaking thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks but said he did so to spark a debate on US foreign policy.

The leak is considered the largest ever of secret US government files.

He faces a maximum sentence of up to 136 years.

Pte Manning was convicted on Tuesday of 20 charges in total, including theft and computer fraud but was found not guilty on the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

Viewpoint: Significance of verdict

The judge's ruling avoids the establishment of a precedent that could have applied to ongoing leak cases, including the Edward Snowden saga.

The gist of the prosecution's argument in the Manning case is that in today's interconnected world, any leak of classified information will end up on the Internet and available to America's enemies.

Such a finding could have had a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to report on the activities of government and the willingness of officials to be candid in describing the complex decisions and trade-offs that governments confront every day.

Finding the right balance among security, secrecy, transparency and privacy remains a work in progress.

PJ Crowley, former assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration

In addition to multiple espionage counts, he was also found guilty of five theft charges, two computer fraud charges and multiple military infractions.

His sentencing hearing is set to begin on Wednesday. It may be a lengthy process, as both the defence and the prosecution are allowed to call witnesses.

Many will hope the court does make an example of Pte Manning to discourage others from making secrets public, the BBC's North America Editor Mark Mardell reports from Washington.

Mr Assange said the verdicts represented "dangerous national security extremism".

Speaking from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Mr Assange said: "This has never been a fair trial.

"Bradley Manning isn't guilty of anything in that he's actually very heroic for demanding government transparency and accountability and exposing the American people and the rest of the world to the crimes committed by the American government," he said.

Mr Assange said the only victim in the case had been the US government's "wounded pride".

The verdicts

Private Bradley Manning leaves court

Guilty: Seven out of eight espionage charges, five theft charges, two computer fraud charges, five military counts of violating a lawful general regulation, one of wanton publication of intelligence on the internet

Not guilty: Aiding the enemy, unauthorised possession of information relating to national defence

He said that there were two appeals within the US justice system as well as the Supreme Court. "WikiLeaks will not rest until he is free," Mr Assange said.

Graphic footage

Pte Manning appeared not to react as Judge Colonel Denise Lind read out the verdict on Tuesday, but his defence lawyer, David Coombs, smiled faintly as the not guilty charge on aiding the enemy was read.

"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."

The Wikileaks disclosures

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 and young soldier who had become disillusioned during his time in Iraq.

World media reaction

Editorial in The New York Times

"Lurking just behind a military court's conviction of Pfc Bradley Manning... is a national-security apparatus that has metastasized into a vast and largely unchecked exercise of government secrecy and the overzealous prosecution of those who breach it... The government should satisfy itself with a more moderate sentence and then do something about its addiction to secrecy."

Ansgar Graw in Germany's Die Welt

"After the verdict, an immature youngster with vague dreams of a 'better world' and few thoughts about his own obligations is facing further years in prison. But his military superiors failed at least as much as Bradley Manning."

China's People's Net website

"Manning has a number of supporters in the United States, who believe that Manning uncovered the most ugly side of foreign policy formulated by American politicians and military leaders."

Correspondent on Russia's Rossiya TV

"The verdict in the Manning case... is also a signal to all future truth-lovers in America. The time of informers-romantics has passed. And even after bursting the boil of secrecy, it is very difficult today to not only change the course of history, but also to awaken society that is not ready to and does not want to hear the truth."

His actions, Mr Coombs argued, were those of a whistle-blower.

In a lengthy statement during a pre-trial hearing in February, Pte Manning said he had leaked the files in order to spark a public debate about US foreign policy and the military.

Much of the court martial was spent considering the soldier's intentions as he leaked the documents.

Amnesty International said in a statement the "the government's pursuit of the 'aiding the enemy' charge was a serious overreach of the law, not least because there was no credible evidence of Manning's intent to harm the USA by releasing classified information to WikiLeaks."

But the Democratic and Republican leaders of the US House of Representatives intelligence committee said "justice has been served", in a joint statement after the ruling.

Among the items sent to Wikileaks by Pte Manning 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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