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Bradley Manning’s sentencing in WikiLeaks case sparks debate

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Bradley E. Manning, the soldier convicted of leaking a trove of classified documents, was sentenced to 35 years in prison Wednesday for the largest public breach of secret data in U.S. history, sparking a debate over the length of his prison term and whether he could ever win an early release.

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, also demoted him from private first class to private and dishonorably discharged him from the Army at a brief court-martial hearing at Fort Meade, Md.

Military law specialists seemed to generally agree that the sentence was merited. But civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates were angered, with some calling for President Obama to commute the sentence or pardon Manning altogether.

Manning, 25, was convicted July 30 on 20 charges, including six under the Espionage Act, for downloading, copying and passing to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 raw U.S. military battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department cables, all classified "Secret."

He also provided the anti-secrecy website with a classified 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Baghdad. The video — which shows a dozen people, including two employees of the Reuters news agency, being mowed down amid casual chatter by the troops — was dubbed by WikiLeaks as "Collateral Murder."

Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer who lectures on military justice at Yale Law School, said he thought the sentence "might be a shade on the high side," adding it was likely calibrated "to deter others from committing the same crime in the future."

"I don't think either the defense or the prosecution should look at this as a victory," Mr. Fidell said.

He added that, in the military prison system, inmates who stay out of trouble can get their sentence reduced by up to 10 days a month — almost by a third over the term of their incarceration.

With 3 1/2 years' credit for time served, Manning could be eligible for parole in 10 years.

However, Gary R. Myers, a lawyer who has represented several high-profile military defendants, said, "That isn't going to happen. I view parole as unlikely in this case because of the very serious nature of the offense."

"This man is going to leave prison in his 40s with his youth spent in jail, and I think that is appropriate," added Mr. Myers, whose clients include personnel involved in both the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq.

But Michael Ratner of the left-leaning Center for Constitutional Rights said that "35 years for telling the truth is outrageously long," calling Manning a whistleblower and a hero.

He called on Mr. Obama to pardon him.

The White House said that there was a procedure for requesting a pardon, and that Manning or his supporters were "welcome" to use it.

In her verdict last month, Col. Lind, found Manning not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, an offense that could have meant life in prison without parole.

Maj. Ashden Fein, the prosecutor, argued that the charge was justified because Manning gave secrets to a group of anti-secrecy activists, knowing the material would be seen by terrorists.

Manning had faced a potential maximum sentence of 90 years.

He apologized last week in a short statement during a sentencing hearing.

"I'm sorry that my actions hurt people," he said. "I'm sorry that they hurt the United States. When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people."

His defense attorney, David Coombs, argued that the military was partly to blame because it should have pulled Manning's access to classified documents after a series of extreme emotional events the junior intelligence analyst experienced during his deployment in Iraq.

Manning raged at superiors, emailed photos of himself dressed as a woman and punched a female soldier in the face. But the Army, short on intelligence analysts in Iraq, needed his computer savvy and other brainpower in Iraq, witnesses said at his court-martial.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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