A military judge, in a document explaining why she found U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning guilty of 20 counts including six violations of the federal Espionage Act, said the enormous leak of classified information he engineered was “imminently dangerous to others”.
Army Col. Denise Lind released her legal rationale, or “special findings”, as the sentencing phase of Manning’s court-martial neared its end Friday. Lawyers will make closing arguments Monday, and Ms. Lind said she would announce the sentence as soon as Tuesday.
Manning faces up to 90 years in prison.
Ms. Lind wrote in the 10-page document that Manning’s actions were wanton and reckless.
“Pfc. Manning’s conduct was of a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others,” she wrote.
The rules for special findings require a written rationale only for guilty verdicts. Therefore, Ms. Lind provided no explanation for her decision to acquit Manning of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. On the espionage convictions, for transmitting defence information, Ms. Lind found that the leaked material was both potentially damaging to the United States and “closely held”, meaning it had been classified by the appropriate authorities and remained classified at the time it was leaked. The lone computer fraud count on which Manning was convicted hinged on whether he knowingly exceeded his authorised access on a classified government network when he used his workplace computer to save the State Department cables to a CD so he could use his personal computer to transmit them to WikiLeaks.
The defence had argued that Manning was authorised to view the cables as part of his job, and that there was no prohibition on downloading or saving them. Prosecutors had argued that Manning had no authority to access such a wide range of cables since his job was narrowly focused on the threat from Shia Muslims in Iraq.
Ms. Lind drew a fine line in her legal reasoning. She said the phrase “exceeds authorised access” means Manning used the computer with authorisation, and then used that access to obtain information he wasn’t entitled to obtain.
Manning had apologised on Wednesday for the harm he caused by leaking the information. He did not apologise, though, for exposing what he considered wrongdoing by the U.S. military and duplicitous diplomacy by the State Department.
Speaking to Manning supporters after Friday’s session, defence attorney David Coombs acknowledged that Wednesday had been a tough day for Manning because it was “family day”.