Wednesday morning, Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of military documents, terror detainee assessments, and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. He had faced up to 90 years, but dodged a bullet when he was found not guilty of aiding the enemy in the Espionage Act. No one expected a light sentence based on the number of convictions, but the prison term is nonetheless a blow to the act of whistleblowing and the notion of free information.
The upside for Manning is that he is eligible for parole in eight years, prompting Col. Morris Davis, former chief Gitmo prosecutor, to tweet:
#Manning sentenced to 35 years. Means he'll likely serve about 8 to 8.5 yrs more in confinement and be out by the time he's 33 or 34.— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) August 21, 2013
The Manning case's judge, Army Colonel Denise Lind, seems to have struck a balance between a short prison term and the prosecution's requested 60 years. That said, she leaned more toward the defense's request for a lenient 25 years. The defense argued in the sentencing phase that Manning was idealistic but isolated, while the prosecution aimed for a harsh sentence to act as a deterrent to other would-be whistleblowers, and to reassert the importance of national security secrets. That whistleblower leaks might include war crimes and shady dealings was irrelevant.
The Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement in response to Manning's sentence, criticizing the fact that the government uses the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute whistleblowers.
"We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act," it read. "The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up."
"It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated," added CCR's Annette Warren Dickerson. "Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers – who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing – and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case."
Manning will be credited for his 1,293 days already served. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, head of the Military District of Washington D.C., will review Lind's ruling, and can reduce the term but cannot add to it. In the coming weeks, Manning's defense will likely appeal his conviction and ask for a release.