Judge in Bradley Manning Trial Declines to Dismiss ‘Aiding the Enemy’ Charge
The military judge presiding over Bradley Manning‘s court martial refused to drop a series of charges against him on Thursday, including the most serious one he faces: “aiding the enemy.”
Last week, the defense requested the judge dismiss the charge, which could lead to a life sentence, arguing that the prosecutors had failed to provide enough evidence proving Manning knew he was helping enemies of the United States — like Al Qaeda — by passing secret documents to WikiLeaks.
“He was knowingly providing information to the enemy,” Judge Col. Denise Lind stated, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The judge sided with the prosecutors, who claimed Manning should have known Al Qaeda would get ahold of the leaked documents since it had Internet access. This argument by the government is one that legal experts and observers think may set a dangerous precedent for future prosecution of information leakers and whistleblowers.
“What the judge held is that it is at least in theory sufficient to show the person knew that the information was going to the Internet and that the enemy accesses the Internet,” Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the New York University School of Law Brennan Center for Justice, told Mashable. “That ruling embraces such a a broad conception of knowledge that really anyone in the military who discloses information to the media or posts it on the Internet could be accused of ‘aiding the enemy.'”
However, Lind’s decision doesn’t necessarily translate into a guilty ruling for Manning. The judge simply denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the “aiding the enemy” charge, but there is not yet a final verdict.
In her ruling today, Goitein explained, the judge was constrained by military rules to look at the evidence “in the light most favorable to the prosecution.” In other words, her decision to drop the charge was based on whether the prosecution presented “any evidence whatsoever” to support the “aiding the enemy” charge. Now, she must weigh the evidence and decide whether it establishes “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Manning is guilty, Goitein said.
Amnesty International called the “aiding the enemy” charge “a travesty of justice,” arguing that the prosecutors “have pushed a theory that making information available on the internet — whether through WikiLeaks, in a personal blog posting, or on the website of the New York Times — can amount to ‘aiding the enemy.'”
The judge also denied motions by the defense throw out the charge that Manning violated the anti-hacking Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 of the lesser charges he faces, effectively stepping up as WikiLeaks’ source. The aggregate punishment for these charges would be 20 years in jail. The government charged Manning with a grand total of 22 charges, which would amount to 154 years in jail, plus the life sentence without possibility of parole for “aiding the enemy.”
The judge is expected to issue her judgement as early as next week.
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