The first trial involving a major breach of national security — the Snowden case will be next — is coming to an end.
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning this week beat the most serious rap against him — aiding the enemy — in a widely publicized court martial. But that triumph must be listed under the category of Pyrrhic victory — at best.
Manning, who earlier pleaded guilty to some lesser charges and Tuesday was convicted of multiple violations of the federal espionage act, still faces a potential prison sentence of 136 years. Although it's unlikely that Manning will receive that much time, his future is not bright, proving once again that principled souls acting in self-righteous and impulsive fury can pay a high price for their actions.
The court found that Manning did not act with treasonous intention when he stole hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents, ultimately turning them over for publication on Wikileaks. But Manning clearly knew what he was doing was unlawful and did not care about the consequences, including those affecting his liberty or the country to which he swore allegiance.
The Manning case once again raises a question of perspective: Is he a whistleblower or a traitor? People will disagree. But it's hard to dispute the idea that every Tom, Dick and Harriet, no matter what their place in the military chain of command, can't be allowed to turn over government secrets to this country's enemies every time they stumble across something distasteful to them.
The damage caused by these disclosures is vast, not least of which is the retaliation imposed by al-Qaida terrorists on Iraqis who were identified in the leaked documents as working with the American military. People died as a result of Manning's unilateral decision to release their names.
Almost as troubling is that other countries have become less willing to work with the United States, apparently fearful that any information they share is not secure.
That said, Manning himself is a sympathetic figure, even if his actions are not. Described as a loner and misfit, he comes from a troubled family background and joined the military to find acceptance that was not forthcoming. He complained bitterly to acquaintances that his superior officers mostly ignored him, a revelation that reveals much about his need for attention.
Manning, who was serving in Iraq when he was arrested, certainly found a way to solve that personal problem. In doing so, he has caused himself and his country considerable grief.