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WikiLeaks: Manning guilty verdict sets 'dangerous precedent'

Leaker faces up to 136 years topping up stripey suntan

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Chief WikiLeaker Julian Assange has said that the guilty verdicts in the case against US Army Private Bradley Manning have set a dangerous precedent.

Manning, who handed hundreds of thousands of classified documents over to WikiLeaks in what he claims was an attempt to prompt debate about US military and foreign policy, was found guilty of 20 charges yesterday.

These included seven different offences under the Espionage Act. He was found innocent of the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy", but, nonetheless, faces a maximum sentence of 136 years in prison.

Assange, speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, said in a statement that the prosecution at Manning's court martial had failed to provide evidence of any person that had been harmed by his disclosures, despite its stance that leaking the documents risked human life and national security.

He also asserted that Manning is the "quintessential whistleblower" and it was unreasonable to call whistleblowing or journalism a form of espionage.

"This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower," he said. "It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short-sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed.

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

Amnesty International also said that the verdict showed the US government's "misplaced priorities on national security".

"The government’s priorities are upside-down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence," the group's senior director of international law and policy Widney Brown said in a statement.

“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning, who it seems was trying to do the right thing - reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that Manning's trial was about sending a message: the US government will come after you, no holds barred, if you're thinking of revealing evidence of its unlawful behaviour,” she added.

But the Democratic and Republican heads of the US House of Representatives intelligence committee said in a joint statement that "justice had been served".

"PFC Manning harmed our national security, violated the public's trust, and now stands convicted of multiple serious crimes. There is still much work to be done to reduce the ability of criminals like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to harm our national security," they said.

Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who revealed details of its web and phone snooping project PRISM, is currently attempting to avoid extradition to the US to face charges relating to his disclosures.

WikiLeaks' Assange is holed up in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault case. He claims that he is only avoiding the summons because he believes it is a ploy to ultimately get him deported to the US to face charges over the WikiLeaks site.

Manning's sentencing hearing is due to start today, but it could go on for some time as both the prosecution and the defence are allowed to call witnesses. ®

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