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What's next for Bradley Manning? Prison time could add up for convicted leaker

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Highlights
  • Pfc. Bradley Manning's sentencing hearing begins Wednesday
  • He escaped a life sentence without parole, when he was acquitted of aiding the enemy
  • Manning was found guilty on 20 counts that include violations of the Espionage Act
  • Civil rights organizations have come out in support of Manning

By Ben Brumfield and Barbara Starr

The sentencing hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning begins Wednesday, and in the coming days, the famed leaker will find out how much time he will serve behind bars. It could be years or decades.

Col. Denise Lind, the judge in the case, spared him the certainty of spending his entire life in jail Tuesday, when she acquitted him of the most grievous charge of aiding the enemy. Had she convicted him of that one charge, he could have spent life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But Manning was found guilty of 20 counts that include violations of the Espionage Act. Twelve of them carry maximum sentences of 10 years each in prison.

Altogether, they add up to 136 years. But Lind may decide not to slap him with the maximum for each count. She may rule that he'll serve the sentences concurrently, rather than consecutively.

It may take several days before she reaches a decision.

Manning has already been in custody for three years.

Convictions and acquittal

Manning was convicted of stealing classified information and videos -- more than 700 U.S. Southern Command records, records pertaining to Afghanistan, State Department cables and classified Army documents.

Then he leaked them for publication on the Internet.

Authorities say he delivered three-quarters of a million pages of classified documents to the secret-sharing site WikiLeaks, which has never confirmed the soldier was the source of its information.

The military accused him of putting lives in danger, saying some of the material was found in Osama bin Laden's compound.

Lind, in acquitting Manning of the main charge, said he didn't know that al Qaeda would get the material and therefore did not aid the enemy.

Free speech

Manning said he just wanted the public to know what the government was doing.

WikiLeaks supported his claim in a statement Tuesday blasting the convictions on the other counts as "a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism."

"It can never be that conveying true information to the public is 'espionage.' "

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to talk about the verdict live on the Internet on Wednesday, according to a tweet from WikiLeaks' confirmed feed.

Civil rights organizations also came out in support of Manning as a hero of free speech.

"The only reason why the government decided to proceed with this trial is so that it could pursue this dangerous theory that equates leaks to the press with aiding the enemy," said ACLU spokesman Ben Winzer.

Others saw the acquittal on the main charge as a victory for free speech.

"It shows that a really very junior enlisted person can do battle with the federal government in a case where the government is really mad as hell about what happened here, throws everything it has at him, and its biggest charge fizzles," said Gene Fidell from the National Institute of Military Justice.

Citizen journalist

During Manning's sentencing hearing, Congress will convene a hearing on the future of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs in the wake of a second major intelligence leak: Edward Snowden's leaks of records to journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Greenwald, who writes for the British daily newspaper The Guardian, believes Manning's convictions are evidence of differential justice, he told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.

He said the soldier was just doing the job journalists should do to make government transparent to Americans.

Greenwald compared Manning to famed journalist Bob Woodward, who gained international fame when he broke the iconic Watergate wiretapping scandal. Its cover-up led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

"Bob Woodward has written book after book after book and has become extremely rich by publishing secrets way more sensitive than anything Bradley Manning ever published," Greenwald said.

The difference in the eyes of U.S. justice, in Greenwald's opinion: Woodward is well connected with senior officials who leak to him.

Manning, he said, is not.

CNN's Barbara Starr wrote and reported from Washington; Ben Brumfield wrote and reported from Atlanta; CNN's Chelsea J. Carter, Ashley Fantz and Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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