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Military judge finds Manning's WikiLeaks acts 'wanton and reckless'

Private First Class Bradley Manning is escorted out of court after testifying in the sentencing phase of his military trial at Fort Meade, M
Private First Class Bradley Manning is escorted out of court after testifying in the sentencing phase of his military trial at Fort Meade, M

By Tom Ramstack

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The military judge who will determine how long U.S. soldier Bradley Manning will spend in prison for the biggest breach of classified data in the nation's history on Friday said she found that his acts were "wanton and reckless."

Judge Colonel Denise Lind last month found Manning, 25, guilty of 20 criminal counts, including espionage and theft, for handing over some 700,000 secret U.S. documents to the WikiLeaks pro-transparency website.

On Monday, she will begin deliberations on Manning's sentence. He could face up to 90 years in prison for his role in a case that catapulted WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the world spotlight.

"Manning's conduct was of a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others. His conduct was both wanton and reckless," Lind said in a series of written findings issued after prosecutors finished their sentencing arguments on Friday.

Manning was working as a low-level intelligence analyst at a military base in Baghdad in 2010 when he handed over battlefield videos, diplomatic cables and other documents to WikiLeaks. He hoped the move would spark a broad debate about U.S. foreign activities, his lawyers said.

Military prosecutors argued that the breach aided al Qaeda militants and harmed the United States.

Manning's lawyers this week presented their case for giving the defendant a mild sentence. Witnesses including military mental health specialists and members of Manning's family testified that the soldier, who is gay, showed signs that he was unsuitable for overseas deployment, including violent outbursts.

The slightly built soldier, dressed in his uniform and glasses, his hair cropped close, on Wednesday addressed the court for the first time since February, saying that he was "sorry" and understood that he "must pay a price" for his actions.

Before the prosecutors rested their case Friday, they presented a written statement from Army Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent David Shaver, who said chat logs and e-mail he found on Manning's computer in Iraq indicated he was responsible for leaking the classified documents.

Manning and his attorney said they would not dispute Shaver's statement.

Lind is expected to sentence Manning sometime next week.

On Monday, the prosecution and defense attorneys are scheduled to make their final arguments on what they believe is the most appropriate sentence for the 25-year-old Manning.

The material Manning released that shocked many around the world was a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. A dozen people were killed, including two Reuters news staff. WikiLeaks dubbed the footage "Collateral Murder."

(Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

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