US soldier Bradley Manning has been convicted of espionage for leaking thousands of classified documents in the biggest leak of secret government files in US history.

Some 700,000 documents were passed to the anti-secrecy site Wikileaks, including US diplomatic cables and classified battlefield reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But is the court ruling a curb on freedom of speech or does it defend national security?

Twenty-five-year-old Manning, who was an army private and intelligence analyst, said he had wanted to shine a light on government misconduct. But prosecutors say he recklessly betrayed his uniform, leaking sensitive material in order to gain notoriety.

He acted as a spy and as a traitor, a whistle-blower is somebody that contacts their supervisors within their own organisations, if that doesn't work, they can contact a member of Congress, but they don’t just go to Wikileaks or another organisation and release something like 700,000 documents and videos … 

JD Gordon, former US defense department spokesman

Among the classified files leaked by Manning was graphic cockpit footage of two US Apache attack helicopters firing on and killing 12 civilians on a street in Baghdad.

Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 charges, including espionage, computer fraud and the wanton publication of intelligence on the internet.

But he was acquitted of the most serious charge against him - aiding the enemy - and cleared of possessing information relating to national defence.

Much of the debate surrounding his actions centres on the consequences of the the leaked documents, the first batch of which related to Iraq. There were hundreds of classified reports of torture, that continued even after the Abu Ghraib scandal.

But many classified files simply embarrassed the US, or undermined foreign relations, such as the evidence that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah repeatedly urged the US to attack Iran; an assessment of Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin that labelled the country a 'virtual mafia state', and insights into the lavish and corrupt lifestyle of former Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali that some believe helped trigger the Tunisian revolution.

While Manning was by some accounts a troubled young man, his defence team went to great lengths to show that he did not have malicious intentions.

Manning himself said he leaked the material to expose what he called the US military's "bloodlust" and disregard for human life.

He says he did not want to damage the US, although he accepted that the revelations might be embarrassing. He later pleaded guilty to 10 out of the 22 charges.

Lauren McNamara whose testimony was used heavily by Manning's defence team said he was "...someone who was concerned about the well-being of his country .... I don't believe that he would have done anything to endanger American troops".

So, is Manning a well-intentioned whistleblower or a traitor and a spy?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, is joined by guests: Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs; Delphine Halgand, the US director for Reporters Without Borders; and JD Gordon, a former US defense department spokesman.

"You can even ask yourself: Is it a worse crime to commit such killings or to reveal this information to the public? And according to the verdict it seems that it is worse to reveal information to the public than to commit such crimes."

-Delphine Halgand, the US director for Reporters Without Borders 

Source: Al Jazeera