Moral Low Ground

US Government


A military judge sentenced US Army whistleblower Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison on Wednesday for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks.

Last month, Manning, 25, was convicted of 19 charges, including violating the 1917 Espionage Act. The former intelligence analyst was acquitted of the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, which could have resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment.

Manning still faced up to 90 years behind bars. Military prosecutors sought a 60-year sentence, arguing that “there is value in deterrence.”

“This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information,” Capt. Joe Morrow, a military prosecutor, said prior to Manning’s sentencing. “National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously.”

Manning will be required to serve a third of his 35-year sentence, minus more than three years’ time served, before being eligible for parole.

Military judge Col. Denise Lind also dishonorably discharged Manning, who will forfeit all future benefits. He was also reduced in rank.

Civil liberties and transparency advocates expressed their deep disappointment after Manning was sentenced.

“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,” Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement. “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. This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

“The aggressive prosecution and harsh sentencing of Manning not only contrasts sharply with the total impunity of former senior US officials for torture and related abuses, but also far exceeds the sentences most democratic countries impose for public leaks of sensitive information,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch.

Manning maintained that he did not believe the leaked documents would harm the United States, but NBC News reports some of the classified information found its way into the hands of Osama bin Laden and was recovered during the US military raid on his Pakistan compound in 2011.

The conditions of Manning’s three-year detention raised global concern. He was jailed under conditions described as “cruel, inhuman and degrading” by the United Nations.

Defense attorney David Coombs painted a picture of Manning as a young, naive but good-intentioned American who leaked the classified documents in an attempt to bring to light war crimes. Manning, who pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, explained that he leaked the files to expose the US military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for the lives of innocent men, women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the material in the leaked documents were files detailing US and allied atrocities and war crimes in both of those nations (the so-called Iraq and Afghan war logs), as well as documents proving that 150 innocent men and boys were knowingly imprisoned in the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The leaked files also detail US cover-ups of child rapetorture, the killing of civilians in countries against which the United States has not declared hostilities, the killing of journalists, State Department spying on US allies and the UN, and other offenses.

While the architects and perpetrators of many of the crimes revealed by Manning and Wikileaks have gone unpunished or have even been protected by the US government under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the government has chosen to aggressively pursue those who blow the whistle on such crimes, raising global alarm over US hypocrisy.

Manning’s case divided national opinion, with about half of Americans viewing him as a traitor, while millions of others consider him a whistleblower and a champion of transparency. Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize each year since 2011 for exposing “a long history of corruption and war crimes” and helping “motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements.”

Daniel Ellsberg, a former US military analyst who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, which proved the Lyndon B. Johnson administration lied to Congress and the American people about US involvement in the Vietnam War, called Manning “an extraordinary American who went on record and acted on his awareness that it was wrong for us to be killing foreigners.”

Ellsberg said he believed that Manning “saved lives.”

Manning also enjoyed widespread support from many celebrities and foreign leaders.

But many conservative US politicians, pundits and right-wing media branded Manning a traitor, with some even calling for his execution.

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