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A military judge on Wednesday morning sentenced Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Manning, 25, was convicted last month of multiple charges, including violations of the Espionage Act for copying and disseminating the documents while serving as an intelligence analyst at a forward operating base in Iraq. He faced up to 90 years in prison.
Manning is required to serve one-third of the sentence, minus three and half years of time served, before he is eligible for parole. That will be in eight years when he is 33.
Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, said Manning was dishonorably discharged. He was also reduced in rank and forfeits all pay.
Manning stood at attention, flanked by his attorneys, to hear the verdict with his aunt, Debra Van Alstyne, sitting behind him. He did not appear to react when the sentence was read.
As Manning was escorted out of the packed courtroom, more than half a dozen supporters shouted out to him, “We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley! You’re our hero!”
The decision was immediately condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“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,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
The government had asked the judge to sentence Manning to 60 years. “There is value in deterrence, your honor; this court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information,” said Capt. Joe Morrow, a military prosecutor. “National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously.”
Defense lawyer David Coombs portrayed Manning as a well-intentioned but isolated soldier with gender identification issues, and he asked Lind to impose “a sentence that allows him to have a life.”
“He cares about human life,” said Coombs as the sentencing phase of the court-martial at Fort Meade ended last week. “His biggest crime was he cared about the loss of life he was seeing and was struggling with it.”
Manning also addressed the court and apologized for his actions, saying he was “sorry that I hurt the United States.”
Manning will receive a credit of 1,293 days for the time he has been confined prior to the sentence, including 112 days of credit for abusive treatment he was subjected to in the brig at the Quantico Marine Base.
Manning transmitted the first documents to WikiLeaks in February 2010, sending what came to be known as the Iraq and Afghanistan “War Logs” — field reports from across both theaters. Manning’s lawyers said he had become disillusioned by what he was seeing in Iraq and hoped that the public release of the secret material would prompt greater public understanding of the wars.
Manning established a relationship online with a person who is thought to be Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. As their personal correspondence deepened, Manning continued to transmit more material, including assessments of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and an enormous cache of diplomatic cables. He also leaked a video that showed a U.S. Apache helicopter in Baghdad opening fire on a group of Iraqis, including two journalists and children, that the helicopter crew believed to be insurgents.
According to his lawyers, Manning became more and more stressed in Iraq, wrestling with his sexuality and the breakup of a relationship. At one point, in April 2010, he sent an e-mail to a superior with the subject line “My Problem” and a photo of himself wearing a blond wig and lipstick.
On May 7, Manning was found on the floor of a supply room with a knife at his feet. After some brief counseling, he was returned to his workstation. Later that same day, he struck a fellow soldier and was removed permanently from the secure environment where he worked.
Following these events, Manning boasted to hacker Adrian Lamo that he had been working with WikiLeaks. After engaging Manning for several days, Lamo informed Army investigators and the FBI about the breach of information and provided them with his chat logs with Manning.
Manning was arrested in Iraq on May 27, 2010.
Legal proceedings against Manning began in December 2011 and, in February of this year, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser included charges. The trial portion of the proceedings began June 3, and on July 30, Lind found Manning guilty of 20 of the 22 charges he faced.
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