This morning, Bradley Manning, the Army private who leaked more than 700,000 classified government documents to WikiLeaks, was sentenced by a military judge to 35 years in prison. Bradley’s prosecutors, after he was found guilty of more than 20 crimes that included violating the Espionage Act, asked for 60 years. With time served and an automatic reduction in his sentence due to his excessively bad treatment in custody, he may be eligible for parole in eight years.
Civil liberties advocates reacted with resounding disappointment. The Center for Constitutional Rights, calling the trial “a frontal assault on the First Amendment,” said, “Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers—who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing—and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.”
Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Privacy and Technology Project, said, “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. 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.”
For their part, Manning’s defense team is probably relieved. Earlier this week, his attorney David Coombs asked the judge, Col. Denise Lind, for a sentence that would allow Manning “to have a life,” while attorneys for the military asked her to make an example of him. Said Capt. Joe Morrow, “There is value in deterrence. … This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information. National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously.” Not visibly reacting to the verdict was Manning himself—who appeared stone faced as Lind read out his sentence, and as a military escort walked him out of the courtroom.