The mixed result of Pfc. Bradley Manning's trial -- convictions on most of the charges against him, an acquittal on the most serious charge of "aiding" the enemy -- will do little to change the way people view him today. To those at home and around the world who see him as a courageous whistle-blower, the fact that he will now likely spend many decades in prison will foster, not stymie, his burgeoning martyrdom. And to those at home and around the world who see him as a traitor, the fact that a military judge is poised to sentence him to the brig until he grows old is a comforting sign that there is still some order within the ranks. This is how it is when the trials of men are conducted long after a people have reached their own verdict.
And this is how it is when both the government and a defendant go to trial seeking to turn a legal proceeding into political symbolism. The Obama Administration and military prosecutors pushed for this trial, even after Manning's earlier guilty pleas to lesser charges, because they wanted to send a strong message to the world, and to Manning's former fellow soldiers, that an army simply cannot leak its secrets. And Manning sought to use the trial and its publicity to send the message that there is still a place in criminal law, and in the war on terror, for the conscientious objector. Col. Denise Lind's decision today gives Manning a "victory" in this war within a war. But he's still a convicted felon facing decades in prison.