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War On Terror

Bradley Manning verdict draws reaction from Dallas human rights activists

Bradley Manning
Private First Class Bradley Manning faces up to 130 years in prison for espionage and theft. Wikimedia Commons
SMU professor Rick Halperin
SMU human rights professor Rick Halperin says the nature of the "war on terror" is still evolving.  Human-writes.org

A military judge has found Private First Class Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge the 25-year-old former intelligence Army analyst faced for leaking classified documents.

Judge Denise Lind also handed down a verdict on 21 other charges. Manning was found guilty of multiple counts of espionage, theft and computer fraud. He faces up to 136 years in a military prison.

Locally, several groups showed support for Manning. Anonymous North Texas and Occupy Dallas changed their Facebook avatars to images of Manning ahead of the verdict. Occupy Dallas member Gary Stuard says he believes Manning exposed war crimes and should be commended, not punished. 

"He's done the nation and the world community a great service," Stuard says. "It's outrageous that someone who exposes crimes get punished but those who commit crimes [within government] walk away."

 "I think we are going to see a redefinition of traitor in the face of this decision and evolving technology," — Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program.

Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, called the verdict predictable. Halperin says the bigger issue is the still evolving nature of the "war on terror" and its impact on individual rights.

"The verdict raises questions of who has what right to know what? And who has the right to distribute information about the government, and to whom?" Halperin asks. 

Had Manning been convicted of aiding the enemy, he could have faced life in prison without parole. However, his punishment for 20 guilty counts amounts to more than 130 years in prison if the maximum penalties are enforced.

Halperin says there's a big difference in calling Manning and NSA leaker Edward Snowden "traitors." 

"This is not a Benedict Arnold situation. These people were in service of government and were disturbed and disillusioned by it, and wanted others to know about it," Halperin says. "These cases are a clear warning to the government that there are people in its employ who are disturbed by government policies that are hidden from most Americans." 

During the course of his eight-week trial, Manning admitted to giving hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy organization founded by Julian Assange. Those documents ranged from video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed journalists and unarmed Afghan civilians to troves of diplomatic cables dating back to 1966. The documents were later published in a variety of mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Speigel newspapers. 

"I don't think the majority of Americans have a firm understanding of these surveillance and privacy issues," Halperin says. "I think we are going to see a redefinition of traitor in the face of this decision and evolving technology. 

"The war on terror has many faces, many forms, many defenders and many who oppose it. Bradley Manning was one who opposed it and he will have to bear the consequences of his actions. But he won't be the last person to oppose the war on terror in all its formats." 

Manning has already been in detention for three years awaiting trial. His sentencing phase begins July 31.

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