Former U.S. Army private Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison following his conviction on charges of having leaked several hundred thousand classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks.org, an online website.
The 25-year-old native of Crescent, Oklahoma remained stoic as military judge Colonel Denise Lind pronounced sentence on August 21, 2013. Besides receiving a lengthy prison sentence, Manning will be demoted to the rank of private, be dishonorably discharged, and forfeit all military pay and allowances.
The court convicted Manning of 20 out of a total of 22 espionage-related, fraud, and theft crimes. He was acquitted of the most severe charge of aiding the enemy, however. Conviction on that count would have mandated a life sentence for Bradley.
Originally, the 20 charges for which Bradley Manning sentenced carried a combined maximum sentence of 136 years in prison. However, Judge Lind granted defense counsel’s motion to reduce the maximum prison term just 90 years. When the sentencing phase concluded, military prosecutors argued for a minimum 60-year sentence, while the defense urged the court to sentence his client to a maximum 25-year term.
During the sentencing phase, Manning read a brief statement to the court in which he apologized for his behavior and expressed remorse for having hurt people and the United States. He further stated that he thought he was going to “help people, not hurt people” when he decided to do the things that lead to his criminal conviction.
Following the trial, defense attorney David Coombs described his client as a “naïve young solder” who sincerely felt that he could single-handedly “change the world.” By contrast, the trial judge described Manning’s conduct as “wanton and reckless” actions that placed others in actual and imminent danger.
The court martial
Formal court-martial proceedings against Manning commenced three years after his detention in Iraq based on official suspicions that he had leaked video footage of an Apache helicopter attack that resulted in the deaths of several Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Military officials subsequently charged Manning with having deliberately leaked a group of 750,000 documents comprised of American military battlefield reports from diplomatic cables, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Some have dubbed this unauthorized release as the biggest classified data leak in our nation’s entire history.
During the court-martial process that lasted almost two months, government prosecutors presented in-depth computer forensic analyses of Manning’s computer activities during his tour of duty in Iraq from late 2009 to mid-2010. According to the prosecution, this evidence revealed that Manning had started to search networks that contained classified military data for content of interest to WikiLeaks.
In a failed bid to prove that had Manning aided the enemy, prosecutors alleged that many of the classified battlefield reports were eventually located on PCs that belonged to Osama bin Laden — all of which were seized during a raid wherein bin Laden met his demise.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Manning’s leaks put many sources of U.S. intelligence in serious danger, some of whom relocated to other countries due to concerns over their personal safety. Moreover, several ambassadors were reassigned, recalled, or expelled when embarrassing revelations became known.
Manning’s prosecution is a prime example of the Obama administration’s attempts to crackdown on espionage. A total of seven people have faced criminal charges for leaking classified information to news media during Barak Obama’s tenure as U.S. President. Only three people have been prosecuted for such offenses during the combined tenures of all prior U.S. Presidents.
Manning reportedly intends to appeal his recent conviction and will become eligible for parole in fewer than ten years. At least one commentator has posited that any subsequent parole decision will probably be as much of a political issue as Manning’s court martial.
During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors urged the court to impose a harsh sentence in order to serve as an effective deterrent for other soldiers who might contemplate the theft of classified information.