Bradley Manning, the Army private convicted of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison.
Pfc. Manning will also be reduced in rank to private, forfeit all pay and allowances and receive a dishonorable discharge. He will serve his prison sentence at the military’s detention facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Manning, 25, expressed no emotion as a military judge announced the sentence. His defense attorney, David Coombs, later called Manning a “resilient young man” who comforted the weeping members of his defense team after the sentencing.
“You get this guy and he looks to me and he says, “It’s OK. It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. I know you did your best. It’s going to be OK. I’m going to be OK. I’m going to get through this,'” he said.
As is customary in the military justice system for prison sentences longer than 30 years, Manning will be eligible for his first parole review after serving 10 years of his sentence. But Coombs believes he could be eligible for parole after seven years because of the 1,294 days credited by the judge toward his sentence.
Manning has served 1,182 days during pre-trial confinement and was also credited with 112 days for the treatment he received at the Marine brig in Quantico, Va.
Coombs said he will ask the convening authority in the case to reduce the sentence. He also intends to submit a request to the secretary of the Army next week asking President Obama to pardon Manning or at least commute his sentence to the time he has already served.
“The time to end Brad’s suffering is now,” Coombs said at a news conference in Hanover, Md. “The time for the president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now. The time for the president to pardon PFC Manning is now.”
Coombs read a statement from Manning that will be included in the request to the president.
“I understand that my actions violate the law. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty for others,” Manning said in the statement.
Manning also said that if he is denied a pardon, “I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”
Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, was convicted July 30.
He was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges he faced, mostly for espionage, theft and fraud. But the judge found him not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence.
The 20 charges originally carried the possibility of 136 years in prison, but judge Col. Denise Lind later granted a defense motion that reduced the potential maximum sentence to 90 years.
At the end of the sentencing phase of the trial, Army prosecutors said Manning should serve at least 60 years in prison. But Manning’s defense attorney argued that he should not serve more than 25 years.
In his closing arguments during the two-week sentencing phase, Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, continued to portray Manning as a naïve young soldier who believed he could change the world.
Coombs said Manning had “pure intentions” in releasing the documents to WikiLeaks. “At that time, Pfc. Manning really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.”
But in court documents released earlier this week that explained her verdicts, Lind said Manning’s conduct “was both wanton and reckless.” She added that it “was of a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others.”
Manning last week apologized for his actions in a short statement he read during the trial’s sentencing phase. “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people,” Manning said. “I’m sorry that they hurt the United States.
“When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”
He said he was sorry for the “unintended consequences” of his actions and offered that with hindsight, “I should have worked more aggressively inside the system.”
Although he acknowledged that “I must pay a price for my decisions and actions” he also expressed the hope to “return to a productive place in society.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said Manning’s apology was a “forced decision” aimed at reducing his potential jail sentence. In a statement, he said the apology had been “extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system.”
The court-martial began three years after Manning was first detained in Iraq for suspicion of having leaked the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed several Iraqi civilians. He was subsequently charged with the leak of 750,000 documents that were a mix of U.S. military battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables.
The release of the documents has been described as the most extensive leak of classified information in U.S. history.
During the nearly two-month court martial, prosecutors presented detailed computer forensics of Manning’s computer activity during his deployment to Iraq in late-2009 to mid-2010. They said the evidence showed that within weeks of his arrival in Baghdad, Manning had begun searching classified military computer networks for materials that were of interest to WikiLeaks.
In their unsuccessful bid to show that Manning had aided the enemy, they said some of the battlefield reports were found on computers belonging to Osama bin Laden. The computers had been seized during the U.S. military raid that killed the al Qaeda leader.
Manning’s initial detention at the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., became the subject of controversy after jailers deemed him a suicide risk.
Now being held at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Manning was forced to remain in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day and on a few occasions he was required to remain naked. His attorneys said the treatment merited dismissing the case against him because it amounted to cruel-and-unlawful punishment.
After a lengthy pre-trial hearing late last year, judge Lind found there was validity to some of the allegations and reduced any potential prison sentence by 112 days.