Army judge Col. Denise Lind Wednesday sentenced whistle-blower Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison. The soldier, who passed to WikiLeaks troves of classified material revealing U.S. military malfeasance and criminality, will also be dishonorably discharged from the military and forfeit all pay and allowances.
Manning was found guilty earlier this month of violating the Espionage Act on six counts, stealing government property, violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and multiple counts of disobeying orders.
At 25 years old, the whistle-blower will be behind bars until he is 56 years old (accounting for time already served) if he serves the full sentence handed down Wednesday. He is not eligible to seek parole for at least eight years.
While the government prosecution had pushed for Manning to serve a 60-year sentence of a possible 90 years that his charges could amount to, the prosecutor’s desire to see Manning spend much of his life in confinement will be fulfilled. As my friend and Radio Dispatch host Molly Knefel commented via Twitter, “The fact that Manning faced worse doesn’t make 35 years any less horrifying. Pervasive over-sentencing recalibrates what passes for just.” And indeed, as a statement from the Brennan Center for Justice noted, “the judge’s sentence in Manning’s case is by far the longest ever imposed for a media leak” and risks — as has Manning’s entire torturous ordeal — a chilling effect on those who might think of blowing the whistle on U.S. wrongdoing hereafter.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, was swift to comment, echoing the sentiments of civil libertarians and human rights advocates long supportive of the whistle-blower:
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.
The Guardian’s Paul Lewis, reporting from the Fort Meade courtroom, described the scene as the lengthy sentence was briefly announced:
The soldier appeared not show any emotional reaction. A reporter in the public gallery said when the sentence was read out, there were gasps among spectators, and one woman clasped her hands over her head.
After judge left the courtroom, Manning was very quickly ushered out the room by guards. A handful of supporters shouted “we’ll keep fighting for you Bradley” and “you’re our hero”.