An Army judge on Tuesday acquitted Pfc. Bradley Manning of aiding the enemy by disclosing a trove of secret U.S. government documents but found him guilty of espionage, a mixed verdict that dealt a rebuke to military prosecutors who sought to prove that the largest leak in U.S. history had assisted al-Qaeda.
The judge, Col. Denise Lind, found Manning guilty of most of the more than 20 crimes he was charged with, including several violations of the Espionage Act. He could face a maximum of 136 years in prison.
Of course, he did help al-Qaida and any of our other enemies who cared to get online and look. But I can appreciate the judge's reluctance to find him guilty of that, which would have been breaking new ground. An "aiding the enmey" charge has never been made against anyone for indirectly supplying an enemy with secrets instead of handing them over directly. As a journalist, I know what tricky and scary territory erasing that distinction would take us into.
I see people are comparing Manning with the other famous spiller of secrets, Edward Snowden, and some insist there can be no comparison. I think there can be, and Manning seems to me the worst sinner. That's not because his leaks might have damaged us more than Snowden's -- I'm not in a postion to know that one way or the other. But Manning signed up to serve this country and then violated the oath he took to protect and defend it. I might let you get away with calling Snowden a "whistle blower," although I'll mock you for it, but never say it about Manning. "Traitor" is the appropriate term.