Fort Meade, Md. • U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy the most serious charge he faced but was convicted of espionage, theft and other charges Tuesday, more than three years after he spilled secrets to WikiLeaks.
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, deliberated for about 16 hours over three days before reaching her decision in a case that drew worldwide attention as supporters hailed Manning as a whistleblower. The U.S. government called him an anarchist computer hacker and attention-seeking traitor.
Manning stood at attention, flanked by his attorneys, as the judge read her verdicts. He appeared not to react, though his attorney, David Coombs, smiled faintly when he heard not guilty on aiding the enemy, which carried a potential life sentence.
Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 charges, including a guilty plea the government accepted in February. He faces up to 136 years in prison. His sentencing hearing begins Wednesday.
Coombs came outside the court to a round of applause and shouts of "thank you" from a few dozen Manning supporters.
"We won the battle, now we need to go win the war," Coombs said of the sentencing phase.
Manning's court-martial was unusual because he acknowledged giving the anti-secrecy website more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. A military investigation found troops mistook the camera equipment for weapons.
Besides the aiding the enemy acquittal, Manning was also found not guilty of an espionage charge.
Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to lesser offenses that could have brought him 20 years behind bars, yet the government continued to pursue the more serious charges.
Manning said during a pre-trial hearing in February he leaked the material to expose the U.S military's "bloodlust" and disregard for human life, and what he considered American diplomatic deceit. He said he chose information he believed would not harm the United States and he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy.
Coombs portrayed Manning as a "young, naive but good-intentioned" soldier who was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay service member at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. military.
He said Manning could have sold the information or given it directly to the enemy, but he gave it to WikiLeaks in an attempt to "spark reform" and provoke debate. Counterintelligence witnesses valued the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs at about $5.7 million.
Coombs said Manning had no way of knowing whether al-Qaida would access the secret-spilling website and a 2008 counterintelligence report showed the government itself didn't know much about the site.
At a press conference Tuesday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange blasted the verdict, calling it "a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism."
The court-martial unfolded as another low-level intelligence worker, Edward Snowden, revealed U.S. secrets about surveillance programs. Snowden, a civilian employee, told The Guardian his motives were similar to Manning's, but he said his leaks were more selective.
Manning's supporters believed a conviction for aiding the enemy would have a chilling effect on leakers who want to expose wrongdoing by giving information to websites and the media.
Before Snowden, Manning's case was the most high-profile espionage prosecution for the Obama administration, which has been criticized for its crackdown on leakers.
The WikiLeaks case is by far the most voluminous release of classified material in U.S. history. Manning's supporters included Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who in the early 1970s spilled a secret Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of abuses against Iraqi detainees, a U.S. tally of civilian deaths in Iraq, and America's weak support for the government of Tunisia a disclosure that Manning supporters said helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.