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Military judge weighs sentencing for Manning in WikiLeaks case

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (R) is escorted out of court after the verdict for his military trial at Fort Meade, Maryland
U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (R) is escorted out of court after the verdict for his military trial at Fort Meade, Maryland

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - A military judge on Thursday will continue to weigh arguments on how long to imprison Bradley Manning for releasing a huge amount of classified U.S. data through the WikiLeaks website.

Judge Colonel Denise Lind earlier this week found Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, guilty of 19 criminal counts related to the leak. The crimes carry penalties that could lead to up to 136 years in prison.

Prosecutors opened the sentencing phase of Manning's court-martial on Wednesday by arguing the intelligence analyst hurt national security and damaged relationships with intelligence sources overseas when he leaked more than 700,000 secret diplomatic and war documents.

One prosecution witness, John Kirchofer, chief financial officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said it cost the federal government $6.2 million to review the threat posed by Manning's release.

Defense lawyers, who during the court-martial portrayed Manning as naive but well intentioned, are expected to call for leniency, arguing the soldier wanted to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military policy, but not to harm anyone.

The slightly built Army private first class was in Baghdad in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with leaking files, including videos of a 2007 attack by an American Apache helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff. Other files contained diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

Observers said the verdict could have "a chilling effect" on WikiLeaks by making potential sources in the United States more wary about handing over secret information.

It could also encourage the United States to seek to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for his role in publishing the information.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for over a year to avoid extradition to Sweden, where two women have accused him of sexual assault. The activist says he fears Sweden might hand him over to U.S. authorities.

(Writing by Scott Malone. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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