An Army judge on Wednesday sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in a military prison for orchestrating the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
Manning’s sentence means the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst eventually could walk out of prison as a free man, potentially in less than a decade. He had faced what effectively could have been a life sentence.
In a brief, heavily tweeted morning session at Fort Meade, Md., Col. Denise Lind pronounced the sentence without elaboration. The sentence includes a dishonorable discharge and reduction to the rank of private.
“I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people,” Manning said in a written statement, read at a post-sentencing news conference by defense attorney David Coombs. “When I chose to disclose classified information I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.”
On July 30, Lind found Manning guilty of 20 counts relating to the theft of an estimated 700,000 documents, which ranged from diplomatic cables and intelligence assessments to a graphic video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack. Lind consolidated some of the charges so that the maximum Manning faced was 90 years.
Manning provided the material to WikiLeaks, a website that publishes government and corporate secrets from the United States and other countries.
Lind previously had acquitted Manning on an aiding-the-enemy charge that carried a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, and she stopped well short of the 60-year sentence that prosecutors had wanted.
“There may not be a soldier in the history of the United States Army who displayed such an extreme disregard for the judgment of the officers appointed above him and the orders of the president of the United States,” Army Capt. Joseph Morrow, one of the prosecutors, declared during a prior sentencing hearing. “He created a grave risk of harm to national security due to the volume of information he disclosed . . . and he endangered the well-being of innocent civilians and soldiers.”
Coombs had urged Lind to impose a sentence that allowed Manning to “have a life” upon leaving prison.
Manning’s sentence will be offset by 1,182 days for his pretrial confinement and an additional 112 days to compensate for the severe treatment he received while held at a Marine Corps brig. Future good behavior in prison could further shave time from his sentence, and appeals could provide some relief as well. Manning also can immediately seek clemency from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who convened the court-martial, and he can apply for a long-shot pardon from President Barack Obama.
Manning can apply for parole after serving one-third of his sentence
Retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis, formerly chief U.S. prosecutor at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, predicted via Twitter that Manning will end up serving “eight or nine years” in prison, once parole, good behavior and other factors are taken into account. Manning is likely to be incarcerated at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks Leavenworth in Kansas, which holds prisoners serving long terms as well as the military’s death row.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, in a statement, said the sentence was a “significant tactical victory” considering the harsher alternatives,” although he insisted the “only just outcome in Mr. Manning’s case is his unconditional release.”
The American Civil Liberties Union called it a “sad day” for Manning as well as for the American public.
“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,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project.
The court-martial was held at Fort Meade, a tightly secured facility north of Washington that’s also the home of the secretive National Security Agency. A stenographer funded by public and media contributions provided a running transcript of the trial proceedings that began June 3.
Manning had agreed to plead guilty to certain charges that had carried a potential prison sentence of 20 years, but prosecutors charged him with additional counts, including espionage.
To shape her sentencing decision, which she reached after about a day of formal deliberations, Lind heard testimony from witnesses in both closed- and open-court sessions. The government’s military and State Department witnesses emphasized the damage done by Manning’s actions and the subsequent publication by WikiLeaks.
“When this data got out, there was a number of foreign partners that were routinely engaged with me who became greatly concerned whether we were still a trusted partner,” testified retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Defense witnesses focused on Manning’s troubled upbringing as the anxious child of alcoholic parents. One diagnosis determined the gay, slightly built Manning suffered from “gender identity disorder,” which included periods when he passed himself off as a woman.
Manning’s “grandiose” delusions, added Navy Capt. David Moulton, a psychiatrist, led the young Army private first class to believe he could “do something great” with his life and further led him to underestimate the trouble he’d catch for leaking military documents.
“Sometimes,” Manning said in his post-sentencing statement, “you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”