A military judge has sentenced Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for giving a trove of military and diplomatic secrets to the website WikiLeaks.
Manning was sentenced Wednesday at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.
The judge convicted the 25-year-old soldier last month of 20 offenses, including six violations of the Espionage Act. He could have been sentenced to 90 years in prison.
Prosecutors had asked for at least 60 years behind bars. Manning’s lawyer suggested no more than 25, because by then, some of the documents Manning leaked will be declassified.
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HOBSON: But first a military judge this morning sentenced Army Private Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for leaking classified government documents. Manning was found guilty on 20 counts, including stealing government property, computer fraud and six violations of the Espionage Act.
The judge had found him not guilty, though, of the most serious crime, aiding the enemy, which could have meant a sentence of life in prison without parole. For more on this we're joined by Philip Ewing, defense editor for Politico. He's been following this story. Phil, 35 years, much lower than the 60 that the prosecution wanted.
PHILIP EWING: That's right, and the maximum potential sentence in this case was 90 years. So the judge apparently wanted to split the difference between the 20 years his defense team had asked for and the 60 that the prosecution wanted.
HOBSON: Do we know why? I mean, Manning's lawyers had argued that he was naive and confused, that there was distress over his sexuality and identity. Is there any indication that the judge took that into account?
EWING: I don't know that she took that into account necessarily, but I do think she felt quite sympathetic to the prosecution's case that despite the arguments that you mentioned that the defense made, that, you know, that he felt betrayed by the Army, that he felt it didn't give him support at a very difficult time, that his subsequent betrayal of the Army was worse, which is why she demoted him to the lowest possible rank, why he'll have to forfeit all his pay and benefits and why he'll leave the Army with a dishonorable discharge.
HOBSON: What has been the reaction from the court and from elsewhere today?
EWING: Well, from our reporter who's on the scene there, it sounds like there were some Manning supporters outside the courtroom and also outside a filing center where the press kind of were corralled because they couldn't actually get in to see the proceedings. And almost all reports we've had from up there have been critical, people saying, you know, Manning is a whistleblower, he did act in genuine good faith to try and disclose what he felt were abuses by the government and that this sentence is too egregious.
And in fact Amnesty International has already said that it feels President Obama should commute the sentence and set him free right away with time served.
HOBSON: Philip Ewing, for those who have not been following this case very closely, just remind us briefly of what Manning released exactly.
EWING: Well, he was an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010 and as such had access to a lot of the live, real-time reports that came in from the ongoing wars, then in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some other classified materials. And he discovered in the course of his work that the U.S. was not being forthright, in his view, about what had taken place in certain key battles or engagements and kind of more generally was not dealing forthrightly with the world, as he saw in the State Department leaks.
And so he approached WikiLeaks and said, you know, I want to get this material out there and show the world that the U.S. is not being candid with its own allies or with the international community kind of generally, and the rest is history.
HOBSON: And he did actually apologize in court for some of his actions, which disappointed some of his supporters.
EWING: He did. He said he thought he was doing the right thing, he thought he was a whistleblower but that he didn't appreciate the degree to which, as the prosecution argued, that these disclosures had hurt the national security of the United States.
HOBSON: We should note that if he does serve the 35 years, he would be in prison when some of the documents that he released would have been made public anyway, right?
EWING: That's right. He is eligible for parole after seven or eight years in his sentence under the military system. There's also a possibility that he could appeal this sentence and get it reduced. So it may not be the case that when all is said and done he actually serves this full term, but I think from the government's perspective, what was most important here is to send a clear signal to potential copycats that, you know, they won't stand for these kind of disclosures through these unofficial channels.
HOBSON: Well continue on that string there. Put this in the context of what we're hearing about obviously Edward Snowden, who's in Russia, he's not back here. If he were tried, it would be a civilian trial rather than a military trial. But what message is the government sending here with this sentence of Manning?
EWING: Well, the White House and the Pentagon have both tried to be very strong about their emphasis that if people view what they feel are misdeeds or double dealing or duplicity or whatever, they should come through the official channels. That's been a consistent message all through both the Manning and Snowden matters. And if there are people in the military or intelligence community or elsewhere, you know, they have inspectors general, or they have other ways through their own appropriate channels to bring what they feel are, you know, bad things to light and not to go to the press or not to go to an organization like WikiLeaks.
The Snowden situation is going to be a little bit different because as you said he's a civilian and would be subject to a civilian trial. But I don't think there can be any doubt, especially after this result today, that if the White House can get its hands on him they would throw the book at him, as well, and try to seek a punishment just as severe as the one they thought in this case.
HOBSON: But 35 years for Manning as opposed to 60 or more, you could say it's not sending as strong a message as it would have.
EWING: That's true, and in fact he could have been subject to life in prison under that most serious charge that you mentioned earlier of aiding the enemy. So they will try and I guess ultimately - which is good for the perspective of the people, you know, in jeopardy in these cases, a judge actually will make a decision or jury would make a decision for Snowden about how much punishment he would face.
HOBSON: Philip Ewing, defense editor for Politico, talking about the sentencing of Army Private Bradley Manning, 35 years in prison. Philip, thanks.
EWING: OK, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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