Bradley Manning, the former military intelligence analyst who gave classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2010, has been acquitted of aiding the enemy, the gravest charge laid against him by the US government.
He was, however, found guilty yesterday of 19 other charges including espionage, theft and computer fraud. Delivered by Judge Denise Lind at Fort Meade military base, the acquittal on the aiding the enemy charge was a large if somewhat symbolic victory for the defence and for Manning supporters worldwide.
The other guilty verdicts – including six espionage charges – mean that the whistleblower still faces spending the rest of his life in prison. The mixed emotions of the day for supporters of Bradley Manning (right) were reflected in a statement from his family last night.
"While we are obviously disappointed in today's verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America's enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform."
After eight weeks of arguments and testimony, the reading of the verdicts took barely five minutes. Once Judge Lind had uttered the not-guilty verdict to the aiding the enemy charge, she delivered a rapid fusillade of mostly guilty verdicts on the other charges.
The sentencing phase will begin this morning and could last several weeks with both sides expected to bring forward numerous witnesses.
For his part, Manning stood to attention, appearing stoic and showing no visible emotion as Judge Lind spoke. Only when the verdicts were over did he briefly talk with his legal team, led by David Coombs, before court was dismissed. While several of his supporters were in the public gallery, they also remained quiet.
A military legal source said that notwithstanding the not guilty verdict on aiding the enemy, Manning still faces sentences of up to 136 years for the combined guilty verdicts. However, there are no minimum sentences which means that Judge Lind has leeway for leniency. Sentencing may not come until near the end of August, officials said.
"We won the battle, now we need to go win the war," the lead defence lawyer, Mr Coombs, said of the sentencing phase after the verdicts were read out. "Today is a good day, but Bradley is by no means out of the fire."
Press freedom advocates had warned that a guilty verdict on aiding the enemy could have cast a chill on journalists trying to hold governments to account and on would-be whistleblowers.
But there was still widespread dismay among civil liberties groups over the full array of last night's other guilty verdicts.
"It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning's trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you," Amnesty International noted.