LAW

Manning sentenced to 35 years in military prison in WikiLeaks case

Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the former intelligence analyst convicted of sending classified documents to WikiLeaks, is shown in 2011. Photo: Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/MCT

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army judge sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in a military prison on Wednesday, Aug. 21 for the largest-ever leak of classified U.S. documents.

The sentence means the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst could eventually walk out of prison as a free man. He had faced what could have effectively been a life sentence.

The  judge who sentenced Manning was Col. Denise Lind. She had previously acquitted him on an aiding-the-enemy charge that carried a sentence of life in prison without a chance of being released.

Lind had found Manning guilty of the theft of an estimated 700,000 documents. He was convicted of 20 charges, including spying. The items ranged from diplomatic cables and intelligence assessments to a video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack.

Prosecutors Wanted 60 Years

Manning could have been sentenced to 90 years. Prosecutors had asked for a 60-year sentence.

“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,” said Army Capt. Joseph Morrow. He was one of the prosecutors.

Defense lawyer David Coombs asked Lind to issue a sentence that allowed Manning to “have a life” when he left prison. He insisted that Manning "believed that this information could make a difference." Manning also "believed that the information couldn’t be used to harm the United States,” Coombs said.

Manning provided the material to WikiLeaks. The website publishes government and corporate secrets from the United States and other countries. Manning and Coombs had argued the leaks were well-intentioned. They said the leaks were also the actions of a troubled young man who was under considerable pressure. Manning was struggling to adjust in a poorly managed Army unit, they said.

Manning can apply for release after serving one-third of his sentence.

Leak Called Damaging To U.S.

“I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions,” Manning told Lind during a sentencing hearing. He said he thought he would help, not hurt people. Now he wonders how he could “possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?”

The court-martial was held at Fort Meade. The tightly secured Maryland facility north of Washington is also the home of the secretive National Security Agency.

Manning had agreed to plead guilty to certain charges that carried a possible sentence of 20 years. But prosecutors charged him with additional crimes, including spying.

His sentence will be shortened by more than 1,100 days for his pre-trial confinement. Another 112 days will be subtracted to compensate for the severe treatment he received while held at a Marine Corps brig. Good behavior in prison could further shave time from his sentence.

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 publication by WikiLeaks.

"I Want To Be A Better Person"

When the information got out, a number of "foreign partners ... became greatly concerned whether we were still a trusted partner and whether we could still engage in intel operations with them," said retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, who used to be with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Intel is short for intelligence.

State Department officials testified about the consequences of having 250,000 department documents made public. A military official said the enemy also changed the way it made some bombs based on the documents.

Defense witnesses focused on Manning’s troubled upbringing as the child of alcoholic parents. Suffering from anxiety even before enlisting, Manning was prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Lexapro. Manning received mental health counseling for angry outbursts when he was in the Army, a defense witness said.

“I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions,” Manning told Lind on Aug. 15. “Once I pay that price, I hope to one day live in the manner I haven’t been able to in the past. I want to be a better person — to go to college, to get a degree — and to have a meaningful relationship with my sister’s family and my family.”

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