Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years for WikiLeaks

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted to a security vehicle outside a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted to a security vehicle outside a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

August 21, 2013
Watch WikiSecrets, FRONTLINE’s investigation into Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and the largest intelligence breach in U.S. history, and The Private Life of Bradley Manning, a profile of the early years of the young soldier now accused of leaking more than half a million classified U.S. government documents.

Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday, after being convicted of espionage and other crimes related to the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history.

The U.S. government had asked for “no less than 60 years” in prison for the 25-year-old Manning, along with a demotion in rank and a $100,000 fine, for passing classified documents to Wikileaks.

If you “betray your country, you do not deserve the mercy of a court of law,” Cpt. Joe Morrow, a lawyer for the government, told the military court on Monday, according to a reporter who was in the courtroom.

The defense, arguing that Manning had good intentions, had asked for a sentence that would “not rob him of his youth.”

In her ruling, Judge Col. Denise Lind reduced Manning’s rank, and ruled he should be dishonorably discharged, but didn’t levy the fine. He’ll be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.

Under military commission rules, the sentence must be reviewed by the Office of the Convening Authority, which has the power to set aside or amend the sentence — but not increase it.

Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge he faced — aiding the enemy — which amounted to treason and would alone have sentenced him to life in prison. But the judge found him guilty of leaking the information and of espionage. All told, the charges he was convicted of could have led to a maximum of 136 years in prison. The judge later lowered that to a maximum of 90 years.

The sentencing hearing over the last few weeks focused on the actual impact of Manning’s leak on U.S. interests. The government brought in 13 classified witnesses to testify to what it has maintained was “substantial damage.” Their testimony was closed to the public so it’s still not clear what evidence they presented or what damage, if any, Manning’s leaks caused.

Earlier government reports suggested that while the leaks were embarrassing because they showed U.S. diplomats criticizing or mocking their counterparts, they didn’t do major harm.

During the sentencing hearing, Manning apologized for any damage he caused. “I am sorry for unintended consequence of my actions,” he said. “When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”

An earlier recording smuggled out of the courtroom captured Manning in his own words explaining why he leaked the documents: He was troubled by U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and hoped the leak would encourage the public to scrutinize foreign policy.

“I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and hatred on both sides,” he said.

…In attempting to conduct counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, COIN operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing the human targets on our lists, and on being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our host-nation partners and ignoring the second or third-order effects of our short term goals and missions.

I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [classified documents], this could spark a massive debate on the role the military in our foreign policy in general, and as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan … might cause society to re-evaluate the need or even the desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations and ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.

Since he was first arrested, Manning has spent three and a half years in military prisons, time that will be deducted from his sentence. For several months he was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for several months, under conditions that Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The U.S. government didn’t allow Mendez to interview Manning privately to determine exactly how he was treated, but the U.N. rep noted in a report that “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”

The Obama administration has charged more people with violations of the Espionage Act for leaking classified information than all other administrations combined.

The most recent American to be indicted under the Espionage Act, Edward Snowden, remains in Russia under temporary asylum, irking the U.S. government, which had requested he return and face felony charges.

President Barack Obama said earlier this month that Snowden should stand trial: “If, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.”

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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