The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction and sentencing of Chelsea Manning, the former soldier responsible for sourcing hundred of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents published online by WikiLeaks.
In a 26-page opinion issued Thursday, a three-judge appellate panel affirmed the results of the 2013 court-martial that ended with the Army intelligence analyst being ordered to spend 35 years in military prison.
“We are confident that based on the entire record and appellant’s course of conduct, the military judge would have imposed a sentence of at least that which was adjudged,” Senior Judge Col. Lorianne Campanella wrote on behalf of the panel.
“We AFFIRM the sentence as adjudged and approved,” the appeal court ruled. “We find this reassessed sentence is not only purged of any error but is also appropriate.”
President Obama commuted the bulk of Ms. Manning’s sentence in early 2017, paving the way for her release from prison last May and effectively making the appeal ruling mostly moot.
Neither Ms. Manning, 30, nor an attorney who represented her on appeal, Nancy Hollander, immediately answered messaged seeking comment.
Filed in 2016, the daunting, 209-page appeal pursued by Ms. Hollander raised objections with both her client’s conviction and sentencing, labeling the latter “grossly unfair and unprecedented.”
“Manning disclosed the materials because under the circumstances she thought it was the right thing to do,” said the soldier’s appeal brief. “She believed the public had a right to know about the toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of life, and the extent to which the government sought to hide embarrassing information of its wrongdoing.”
Affirming an Army judge’s 2013 ruling, the appeal court this week said the soldier had no right to give classified government documents to WikiLeaks, contrary to her claim of the leaks being constitutionally protected.
“Appellant asserts her actions in disclosing classified information related to national security are protected by the First Amendment and that she did not have reason to know the records she disclosed could be used ‘to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.’ We disagree,” the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this week.
“We squarely reject appellant’s First Amendment challenge and firmly hold that a soldier who willfully communicates information relating to the national defense ‘is not entitled to invoke the First Amendment as a shield to immunize his act of thievery.’”
Ms. Manning was arrested in 2010 while deployed in Iraq and ultimately convicted of 19 counts related to the WikiLeaks disclosures, including violations of the Espionage Act and federal computer law. She is campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Democrat.