A military judge on Wednesday morning sentenced Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. The judge, Col. Denise Lind, also reduced Manning's rank and ordered a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of all pay.
Manning, 25, was convicted last month of multiple charges, including six violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, for copying and disseminating the documents and videos to WikiLeaks while serving as an intelligence analyst at an Army base in Iraq. The documents and videos include evidence of possible war crimes and other illegal actions by U.S. forces in Iraq and at Guantanamo prison. Manning was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges against him. However the judge found him not guilty of aiding the enemy, a key government charge.
Manning could have been given up to 90 years in prison.
Prosecutors did not ask for the maximum sentence, perhaps an acknowledgment that Manning was found not guilty of the most serious charges against him. Instead they asked for a 60-year jail term, saying that it would send a deterrence message to any other would-be military leakers. Prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow called Manning a "determined insider who exploited an imperfect system. Every day was another day to stick his finger in the eye of the classification system of the military."
However Manning's defense asked for a prison term of no more than 25 years, arguing that it would give the young man the chance to rebuild his life. In appealing for leniency, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning's "biggest crime was he cared about the loss of life he was seeing and was struggling with it."
The judge said the 35-year sentence would be reduced by 1,294 days (more than three years), representing credit for the time he served before the trial and 112 days of punishment under illegal conditions in the brig at Quantico, Va. Manning will be eligible for parole in seven or eight years, when he will be 32 or 33 years old.
Judge Lind's 35-year sentence turned out to be closer to the defense's request than to the prosecutor's. That, coupled with her acquittal of Manning's on the serious "aiding the enemy" charge, seems to in part vindicate the argument of Manning and his supporters that he had acted out of humanitarian impulses.
However the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the sentence, saying the punishment given to Manning was more severe than that given to other soldiers who were guilty of torture and murder. "When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system," Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a press release. "A legal system that doesn't distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability."
The Government Accountability Project, which defends whistleblowers, called the sentence "excessive and unjust," for the following reasons:
* It has never been proven that Manning's conduct did harm to the US.
* Manning informed the public of clear wrongdoing.
* Manning suffered egregious and unlawful pretrial detention.
* No individuals have been punished as a result of Manning's revelations despite clear atrocities.
At a news conference Wednesday after the sentencing, defense attorney Coombs said Manning's legal team is formally applying to President Obama for a pardon "or at the very least commute his sentence to time served." In requesting a pardon, Manning will tell the president he acted "out of a love to my country, and a sense of duty to others," Coombs said.
A petition supporting the pardon request is online at pardon.bradleymanning.org. Supporters say they are establishing a college trust fund for Manning so that after his release he can fulfill his dream of attending college.
Manning will be imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth.
Photo: Pfc. Bradley Manning, the day before his sentence was handed down. AP/Patrick Semansky.