Manning Supporters Vow to Fight 35-Year Sentence
August 22, 2013
Jared Metzker / Inter Press Service & Paul Lewis / the Guardian
After hearing the verdict, Bradley Manning told his legal team: "It's OK -- I'm going to get through this: after military judge hands down stiff penalty for WikiLeaks disclosures. Meanwhile, ACLU spokesperson Ben Wizner observed: "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."
Manning Supporters Vow to Fight 35-Year Sentence
Jared Metzker / Inter Press Service
(August 21, 20130 -- Bradley Manning, the army private whose leaks of classified information and subsequent prosecution have been the subject of fierce international debate for over three years, was sentenced to 35 years in military prison Wednesday, but his legal team and supporters say they will fight the sentence.
"It's tragic," Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning Support Network told IPS minutes after the sentence was read. "It sends a terrible message for holding government accountable."
Colonel Denise Lind, the sole judge in the case, read Manning's sentence at the courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, near the location where he was being held during trial. She took one day to reach her decision after adjourning a three-week sentencing hearing on Tuesday morning.
In early 2010, Manning handed over a trove of classified data from US Army computers to WikiLeaks, the radical pro-transparency group. The latter made the data public, causing scandals for the US and some of its allies.
Manning's supporters argue that he released the information believing he would better society, and they protest that he was unfairly held for an extended time prior to being tried.
Manning was arrested in May 2010 and has been detained since. Lind announced that this time will be subtracted from his sentence, effectively reducing it by nearly 1,300 days.
The judge convicted him on Jul. 30 of six violations of the federal Espionage Act, as well as 14 other charges of theft and fraud. The maximum sentence Manning faced would have been 90 years.
Kevin Gosztola, a blogger for firedoglake.com who supports Manning and covered his trial, told IPS that the possibility remains open that the 25-year-old soldier could be freed before he turns 40. By regulation, he is eligible for parole after serving 10 years of his sentence, minus the discounted pre-trial confinement days.
"I think this shows that the judge was responsive to the defence's plea to allow [Manning] a life after prison," Gosztola says.
Manning's attorney, David Coomb, questions the severity of the sentence. Speaking with reporters after the sentence was handed down, he noted that he has seen lighter punishments for military clients he has defended who have murdered people or molested children.
Fuller says the next step for those who oppose Manning's imprisonment will be to lobby Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the military commander in charge of the district, to reduce the sentence. According to Fuller, Buchanan has "full latitude" in his ability to soften the sentence, if he chooses.
If the effort to sway Buchanan fails, Manning's legal team will pursue the military appeals process and take advantage of available yearly sentencing reviews by a military parole and clemency board.
His support network will also try to convince US President Barack Obama to commute the sentence.
A demonstration outside the White House is planned for Wednesday evening.
"There are several battles left to fight," Fuller told IPS. "People will be angry."
The data Manning leaked included 470,000 battlefield reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables.
Perhaps most notorious of the data released was a video titled "Collateral Murder", which contained footage taken by a US Army helicopter crew as it gunned down a group of Iraqis standing on a Baghdad street and continued firing as passers-by attempted to rescue them. In the video, US soldiers engaged in the killing can be heard laughing.
Manning's actions divided popular opinion in the US, as some praised him as a hero and others excoriated him as a traitor.
"He was really hoping to change the world for the better," Deborah Van Poolen, an artist who attended Manning's trial and claims to have been "inspired" by his actions, told IPS.
"He is not a whistleblower or a hero. [His leaks] tarnished the image of the US at a sensitive time," Steven Bucci, director of the Foreign Policy Center at the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank here, told IPS, adding that Manning should be considered the "biggest spy [the US has] ever had".
Sympathy for Manning was more widespread outside the US, coming especially from those critical of US policy, and over the past three years movements around the world have advocated for his release.
A campaign has even been started promoting Manning as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, and last week a US human rights group delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides the winner.
Defence attorneys for Manning did not attempt to argue that their client acted as a hero, however, portraying him instead as naïve and telling the court that he was a "young man capable of being redeemed".
"Perhaps his biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn't ignore it," defence attorney David Coombs, who will remain as Manning's attorney, told the judge during the sentencing hearing.
In his own testimony, Manning said he regretted his actions.
"I'm sorry that my actions hurt people," he told the judge. "I'm sorry that they hurt the United States."
"In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system, as we discussed during the … statement, I had options and I should have used these options."
The prosecution argued that Manning's leaks strengthened enemies of the United States and put at risk the lives of US soldiers and diplomats living abroad.
"There may not be a soldier in the history of the army who displayed such an extreme disregard [for his duty]," prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow argued.
Before the conviction was handed down, the prosecution had argued that Manning was guilty of "aiding the enemy", a crime which could have resulted in a life sentence for the young soldier, and, many feared, an extreme precedent for punishing information leaks.
The judge did not convict Manning of "aiding the enemy", but still some believe Manning's case is intended to serve as a warning to future whistleblowers.
"Manning's treatment has been intended to send a signal to people of conscience in the US government who might seek to bring wrongdoing to light," Julian Assange, a founder of WikiLeaks, said in a statement.
"[T]he Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle."
Bradley Manning to request pardon from Obama over 35-year jail sentence
Paul Lewis / the Guardian
FORT MEADE (August 21, 2013) -- Bradley Manning will send a personal plea to Barack Obama next week for a presidential pardon after he was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for passing hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks.
The sentence was more severe than many observers expected, and is much longer than any punishment given to previous US government officials who have leaked information to the media.
Manning showed no emotion, neither when the sentence was delivered, nor after being escorted into a side room, where his lawyers and members of his family were waiting, some of them in tears.
"Everyone in his defence team was emotional, including myself," his lawyer, David Coombs, told the Guardian. "The only person that wasn't emotional was Brad. He looked to us and said: 'It's OK. I'm going to move forward and I'm going to be all right'."
Coombs told a press conference that next week he will formally submit the request for a pardon, "or at the very least commute his sentence to time served". That request will contain a personal appeal from Manning to Obama, which his lawyer read out.
"When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love to my country and a sense of duty to others," Manning will tell Obama. "If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society."
Coombs said the military's decision to seek a charge of aiding enemy -- which ultimately failed -- was placed amid a "government-wide crackdown" on journalists and whistleblowers that should alarm those who care about a free press.
"The case of the United States v Bradley Manning is a watershed movement in history for the freedom of the press," he said.
The 25-year-old soldier was convicted last month of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents and video. The disclosures amounted to the biggest leak in US military history.
He was found guilty of 20 counts, six of them under the Espionage Act, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy".
A protracted legal process that started in May 2010, when Manning was arrested while stationed in Iraq, was over in less than two minutes on Wednesday morning.
The military judge presiding over the court martial, Colonel Denise Lind, walked into the courtroom at Fort Meade military base at 10.15am, dealt with some court admin, asked Manning to stand, then told him he was sentenced to 35 years.
Speaking a clipped tone, Lind told the soldier he would be reduced in rank to the lowest grade of army private, see his pay and allowance forfeited, be dishonourably discharged from the military and "confined for 35 years".
He will now be transferred to military custody in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Amid some confusion over the military rules for parole, his legal team said that taking into account the time he has already served, he will be eligible for parole in around seven years. He has to serve a minimum of a third of his sentence, and at the very earliest, could be released under parole soon as 2021.
A total of 1,294 days -- more than three years -- are automatically deducted from Manning's sentence.
That includes the time already spent in military custody since May 2010, plus 112 days that is being taken off the sentence as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated Manning for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia.
He can earn 120 days per year off his sentence for good behaviour and job performance.
After the judge left the court, Manning was quickly ushered out by guards. A handful of supporters were heard to shout "We'll keep fighting for you Bradley" and "You're our hero".
Manning had faced a maximum possible sentence of 90 years, although few legal experts expected he would receive anything near that amount.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to jail Manning for at least 60 years. But observers who closely followed the Manning trial regarded a sentence of around 20 or 25 years as something of a benchmark.
If the prosecution had ended the trial in February, when Manning pleaded guilty to some of the counts against him, his maximum jail term would have been 20 years.
In mitigation, the soldier's defence team said he should receive no more than 25 years -- the period of time after which many of the materials he released would have been automatically declassified.
The sentence was immediately criticised by press freedom groups and civil liberty campaigners.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said: "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.
"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."
He added: "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."
Daniel Ellsberg, who faced charges under the Espionage Act for leaking the Pentagon Papers documenting the Vietnam war, said Manning "doesn't deserve to spend another day in jail".
"There are some that will not be deterred even by prospect of life in prison -- I think that Manning was one of those," he said. "I think that Edward Snowden is another -- he knows he faced the prospect of life in prison or even assassination … This is an effort to minimise truth-telling."
"This is unprecedented," said Liza Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program. "It is dramatically longer than the longest sentence ever served for disclosing classified information to the media, which was two years."
WikiLeaks, however, hailed the sentence as a "significant strategic victory". In a statement posted on the organisation's website, founder Julian Assange called the trial "an affront to basic concepts of western justice".
Assange said "the Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle" and warned "there will be a thousand more Bradley Mannings".
Military lawyers specifically urged Lind to jail Manning for the "majority of his remaining life" to deter potential future leakers from passing journalists documents on such a scale.
Captain Joe Morrow, a lawyer for the government, told the judge on Monday that is was Lind's responsibility to ensure the military "never see" another leak on the scale of Manning's releases. "This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information," he told her.
Manning's sentence vastly outweighs any previous sentence given to a US leaker who has passed information to a journalistic outlet, although the nature and scale of Manning's disclosures was unprecedented.
Government workers successfully convicted for unauthorised disclosures in recent years include Shamai Leibowitz, an FBI translator who was sentenced to 20 months after passing secret transcripts to a blogger, and John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who was sentenced to 30 months after pleaded guilty last year to disclosing information about the waterboarding of terror suspects.
In 2011, another government whistleblower, Thomas Drake, who shared information about National Security Agency technologies with a Baltimore Sun reporter, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service after a plea bargain.
The sentence marks the end of a long journey for the soldier, which began in late 2009, when he was stationed in the Iraq desert as an intelligence analyst. Disillusioned over the war, Manning, from Oklahoma, began downloading documents from classified computers onto CDs.
Manning passed 250,000 State Department cables and 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield logs to WikiLeaks, as well as files pertaining to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, and video of a 2007 attack by a US helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.
WikiLeaks published some material on its site and also shared documents with a consortium of news organisations, led by the Guardian.
Manning was arrested in May 2010, after Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker who conversed with the soldier in online chats, shopped him to the FBI.
He pleaded guilty to some of the charges in February, and probably achieved some reduction of his sentence when he told the judge earlier this month that he regretted his actions and was sorry that his leaks "hurt the United States".
Unlike civilian courts, where there are federal tariffs or sentencing guidelines, the sentence in a military court is subject to the sole discretion of the judge.
The case will now be automatically referred to the army court of criminal Appeals, the first step in what could become a protracted legal battle that could potentially culminate at the US supreme court.
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