Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence officer convicted of releasing thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison today, reports The New York Times.
The judge, Col. Denise Lind, delivered the sentence during a two-minute hearing this morning. Although this is the longest sentence imposed for an information leak to date, Lind could have sentenced Manning to up to 90 years in prison. He may be eligible for parole in eight years.
Manning, 25, who identifies as gay and possibly transgender, will serve his sentence at a U.S. military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He will also receive a dishonorable discharge and be reduced in rank from private first class to private E1, the lowest in the military.
In 2010, as an Army intelligence officer, Manning released some 700,000 government documents and diplomatic cables that exposed widespread military and diplomatic injustices to the website WikiLeaks. Among the revelations in the material was a video showing members of a U.S. helicopter crew laughing as they carried out an air strike that killed a dozen people -- including a photographer and driver working for Reuters news agency -- in Baghdad in 2007, according to London's Guardian.
Leaders of human rights organizations were quick to respond to the verdict, including American Civil Liberties Union official Ben Wizner, who stated it was a "sad day for all Americans" in a post on the nonprofit's website.
"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," Wizner said. "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."
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter covering the Edward Snowden National Security Agency leaks, used Twitter to express his disapproval of the verdict.
"The US will never be able to lecture world again about the value of transparency and press freedoms without triggering a global laughing fit," tweeted Greenwald, whose partner was detained at a U.K. airport earlier this week.
"Manning sentenced to 35 years: gee, I wonder why Snowden doesn't trust US justice as a whistleblower," he later added, linking to a Washington Post article titled "Snowden Made the Right Call When He Fled the U.S."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released a statement that praised Manning's legal team for defending against the charges of the U.S. government, on which conviction could have incarcerated Manning for up to 135 years. However, he concluded, "The only just outcome in Mr. Manning's case is his unconditional release, compensation for the unlawful treatment he has undergone, and a serious commitment to investigating the wrongdoing his alleged disclosures have brought to light."
"Mr. 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," Assange continued. "This strategy has spectacularly backfired, as recent months have proven. Instead, the Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle. As a result, there will be a thousand more Bradley Mannings."
On the next page, see the transcript of the statement written by Manning and read by Coombs following the sentencing.
The following is a transcript of the statement written by Manning and read by Coombs following the sentencing. The transcript was provided to The Advocate via Common Dreams:
The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We've been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we've had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.
I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy--the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps--to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, "There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."
I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention 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 to others. 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. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.