After more than three years already spent in confinement while awaiting trial, former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison today for what has been described as the largest ever leak of classified government documents.
Manning, who is 25 years old, had been facing 90 years, and prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence him to a minimum of 60 years in prison, arguing that the leaks endangered lives and interfered with the government’s diplomatic efforts.
“There may not be a soldier in the history of the Army who displayed such an extreme disregard” for his mission, the prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, said in court on Monday, according to CNN. Manning “felt he alone was knowledgeable and intelligent enough to determine what information was to be classified.”
In addition to his sentence, the judge reduced his rank, gave him a dishonorable discharge and ruled that he would forfeit all pay, but she did not levy a $100,000 fine against him that he was facing.
Earlier Army Col. Denise Lind, who presided over the trial and began her sentencing deliberations yesterday, noted that Manning had 1,293 days — about 3.5 years — of detention credit due to the time already spent in confinement.
Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, had argued that Manning should get additional credit for the harsh treatment he endured during his first year of detention, which the judge granted, giving him 112 days of credit for his treatment. Coombs also said that Manning was “a young man capable of being redeemed” and asked the judge not to let his client “rot in jail” but to give him a sentence that “allows him to have a life.” The defense team was hoping he would receive no more than 25 years.
Manning will be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence, which means he could be released in about nine years at around the age of 33. His case will now go to the convening authority for review and he will be able to petition for clemency to get a reduced sentence. Once reviewed by the convening authority, his case can go to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties group condemned the sentence.
“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,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said in a statement. “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.”
Last month, Col. Lind acquitted Manning of the most serious charge he faced — aiding the enemy. She found him guilty, however, of five other counts for violating the Espionage Act and five counts of theft.
The judge rejected the government’s argument that Manning, simply by the nature of his training as an Army intelligence officer, had to assume that the information he leaked would likely reach Al-Qaeda operatives. But she ruled that Manning did have reason to believe that the leaks would harm the U.S., even if that was not his intention. The aiding the enemy charge carried a possible life sentence.
Shortly before his trial began in June, Manning pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges against him — 10 of 22 charges — saying he took “full responsibility” for providing the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks with a trove of classified and sensitive military and government documents and video. Manning said in a lengthy statement read to the court that WikiLeaks did not encourage him to provide the organization with information, and that he approached the organization after first attempting to take what he “believed, and still believe[s]… are some of the most significant documents of our time” to The Washington Post, The New York Times and Politico.
His motivation, he said, was to “spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general” and “cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.” Manning asserted that he leaked the documents deliberately, knowing the legal repercussions he might face.
Among other offenses, Manning admitted to improperly possessing and storing classified information and willfully communicating the information to an unauthorized party. He pleaded not guilty, however, to 12 charges, including the most serious: aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence in prison. He also denied disseminating any information that he believed could harm U.S. national security, a key component of the prosecution’s espionage case against him.
Manning described accessing and gradually leaking military and diplomatic documents while serving at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq in 2009, after becoming disillusioned with the military and realizing that much of what the Army told him — and the public — was false.
Among the data he leaked to WikiLeaks were large databases containing voluminous accounts of military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, known as CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A.
He also leaked information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay, unspecified documents from an “intelligence agency,” and the State Department’s “Net-Centric Diplomacy” database of diplomatic cables.
Manning denied that his actions compromised national security. The database of military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan described mostly “historic” events whose intelligence value perished after “48 to 72 hours.” The Guantanamo Bay documents had “no useful intelligence” and did not disclose any results of detainee interrogations, he said. The State Department cables were available to “thousands” of people throughout the government, and Washington Post reporter David Finkel had already written about the deadly Apache helicopter attack in 2007, in which civilians were killed, that Manning viewed on video.
Manning said he often found himself frustrated by attempts to get his chain of command to investigate apparent abuses detailed in some of the documents he accessed. “As an analyst, I always want to figure out the truth,” he said. He considered the military unresponsive to the helicopter attack video and other “war porn.” At Guantanamo, while Manning said he had sympathy for the government’s interest in detaining terrorists, “we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely.”
While in Iraq, Manning — alienated from his fellow soldiers – began visiting WikiLeaks IRC channels and conversing about topics ranging from Linux to gay rights. The chats “allowed me to feel connected to others, even when I was alone,” soothing the emotional stresses of deployment.
In January 2010, Manning took a brief mid-tour leave from Iraq, during which he grappled with the decision to leak information. While staying with his aunt in Potomac, Md., Manning said he tried to talk to an unnamed Washington Post reporter to interest her in the Iraq and Afghanistan documents, but said she appeared to not take him seriously. He said he left voicemails with the public editor and the news-tips lines of The New York Times, but got no response. He asserted that only after failing to give the documents to mainstream media organizations did he pass them to WikiLeaks.
He began to leak the documents in February 2010, shortly before returning to Iraq. Via Tor at his aunt’s house, he uploaded to WikiLeaks a document he composed for the Post about events in Iraq he said he hoped would lift “the fog of war.” Although WikiLeaks didn’t immediately publish it, Manning said he felt “a sense of accomplishment” when he returned to Iraq.
Manning has insisted that no one at WikiLeaks ever encouraged him to leak.
“No one associated with the WLO [WikiLeaks Organization] pressured me to give them more information,” Manning said. “The decision to give documents to WikiLeaks [was] mine alone.”