Verdict near in Bradley Manning trial

Army SPC. Bradley Manning is escorted from his Article 32 hearing February 23, 2012, in Fort Meade, Md. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A military judge said Monday that she expects to announce a verdict on Tuesday in the trial of Bradley Manning, a 25-year-old Army private accused of aiding the enemy by facilitating the release of a trove of classified national security documents to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, began deliberating Friday after closing arguments brought to an end the nearly two-month trial. Manning asked for a military judge, rather than a jury, to hear his case.

In addition to aiding the enemy - the most serious charge Manning faces, which could result in a sentence of life in prison if he is convicted - Manning stands accused of federal espionage, theft, and computer fraud for his role in releasing roughly 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables, and pieces of video footage to the controversial organization, which subsequently published much of the material on its website. The unauthorized disclosure represented the largest leak of classified material in American history.

Manning has acknowledged releasing the documents to WikiLeaks, but his defense attorney has said that he did not expect the information to fall into the hands of American enemies or pose a danger to soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the eyes of his supporters and defense team, Manning is a whistleblower, albeit a naive one, who was simply doing his part to expose what he saw as wartime atrocities and unwittingly became ensnared in a snowballing crisis as his disclosure metastasized.

During closing arguments, Manning's attorney David Coombs said his client was negligent in releasing the documents but insisted Manning had no "evil intent."

"He's not seeking attention," Coombs said. "He's willing to accept the price" of his actions.

Manning has said he disclosed the documents to provoke a public debate about the righteousness of America's wartime conduct. At a pre-trial hearing earlier this year, he accused the American military of "bloodlust," saying troops and commanders demonstrated a lack of regard for human life as they prosecuted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coombs portrayed his client as a "guy who cared about human life."

Manning has insisted that his release was not indiscriminate - that he had access to hundreds of millions of documents as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, but that he culled and released only those that documented legitimate malfeasance.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who himself became a controversial figure and international fugitive in the wake of his organization's decision to release the documents provided by Manning, has sprang to the Army private's defense, lauding him as a whistleblower and accusing the U.S. government of attempting to squelch dissent and dismiss legitimate grievances. He has slammed U.S. officials for waging a "war on whistleblowers."

To his detractors, however, Manning is no whistleblower. Prosecutors portrayed the Army private as a traitor and publicity hound who knew perfectly well where his disclosures would land when he began unlawfully leaking the documents in late 2009. Manning has insisted that his leaks did not begin until February 2010.

"This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the Internet into the hands of the enemy," said the prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, during the trial. He said Manning demonstrated a sense of "arrogance" in releasing the information.

The chief prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, said Manning's goal was "worldwide distribution."

Manning "knew the entire world included the enemy, from his training," Fein said. "He knew he was giving it to the enemy, specifically al Qaeda."

In a 2010 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Joe Biden batted down the suggestion that Manning was a whistleblower, saying the private's actions were more in line with those of a "high-tech terrorist."

After he was arrested in May 2010, Manning was held in solitary confinement, sometimes naked, at a Marine base in Quantico, Va. for nine months. Jailers said they stripped him of clothing because he was considered a suicide risk, but Lind previously ruled that Manning had been unlawfully punished during his detention and that 112 days should be shaved off of any sentence he eventually receives.

Manning's sexuality was also at issue during the trial. A gay man serving during the era of "don't ask, don't tell," Manning was barred from revealing his sexual identity to his colleagues and commanders. Defense attorneys have contended that Manning's struggle to fit into a military culture that devalued his own identity may have played a role in his decision to begin leaking classified information.

Manning has already pleaded guilty to reduced versions of 10 of the 22 charges he faces, which could land him in prison for up to 20 years. Lind previously refused to dismiss the accusation that Manning had aided the enemy, saying prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to justify the charge.

  • Jake Miller

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