Bradley Manning Trial: Can He Avoid Life Imprisonment?

Bradley Manning began his court-martial on Monday. Since his arrest in 2010, he has been held at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. During that time, he has admitted to providing classified information to WikiLeaks and has pled guilty to some of the charges.

Manning, however, has not pled guilty to the charge of aiding the enemy. That charge, under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, states that “Any person who—

(1) aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or

(2) without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly; shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.”

In Manning’s case, the prosecution has identified three enemies who benefited from the leaked information. Two enemies are Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The third enemy is classified in order to keep the group secret from the public.

Manning’s defense will likely contend that he provided the information to WikiLeaks and not to an “enemy.” The release of information too was done by the organization and not by Manning. The only way to validate that would be if members of WikiLeaks testified on his behalf.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, will not be answering that question. He is in London and is currently living at the Ecuadorean embassy. The country granted him political asylum preventing his extradition to Sweden on sexual allegations that include rape. The asylum also prevents Swedish authorities from transferring Assange to the United States.

The defense will be calling nearly 150 witnesses to provide information. Some of the witnesses will be testifying in closed sessions to protect the secrecy of the material. It is unknown if any WikiLeaks employees will be testifying for Manning.

In the end, Manning will be given a life sentence for his activities. The Article 104 charge will be difficult to disprove without someone, like Assange, accepting responsibility for providing the data to the enemy. If Manning knew that all of the information would be disclosed from the beginning then his role is confirmed. If Manning was coerced into providing more data than originally planned then he was used by WikiLeaks. Unfortunately for Manning, he will be in jail while others remain free.