Fort Meade, Maryland: A court martial sat for just two minutes here on Monday to lock convicted WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning up for 35 years – not quite double what his lawyer said he should get and a bit more than half the sentence sought by the Obama administration.
responsible for a leak that by volume is the biggest in US history. And the judge, Army Colonel Denise Lind, gave him a sentence to match – the longest to be delivered for leaks intended to openly reveal information to the American public as opposed to it being passing secretly to a foreign government.
On top of the jail time, she also ordered that Manning, now a first-class private, be demoted to the lowest rank in the military.
She ordered that he forfeit all pay and be dishonourably discharged – but Colonel Lind did not act on a prosecution push for Manning to be made to pay a $100,000 fine to defray some of the government’s damage-control costs in the wake of his gigantic leaking of classified military and diplomatic material.
There was no visible response from Manning on hearing the sentence. Wearing his dress uniform, he stood silently by his lawyer, David Coombs, with a sister and an aunt seated behind him. As the judge finished her brief delivery, the 25-year-old was bundled away by military police, amid calls of ‘we’ll keep fighting’ and ‘we love you’ from a small group of supporters.
As with her decisions on Manning’s guilt on 20 of the 21 charges he faced, Colonel Lind gave no reasons or explanation of how she had arrived at the punishment. But she had already ruled that any sentence would be cut by 1294 days, for time spent in pre-trial detention – including 122 days that were deemed to be mistreatment.
Under military law, Manning could be eligible for parole in about 10 years. The sentence is subject to review by the general responsible for the Washington military district who may reduce, but not increase its severity and it also automatically goes to appeal before the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
. Manning had already offered a range of guilty pleas in which he accepted that he would be jailed for as long as 20 years. But the Obama administration has been determined to use the case as a warning to other would-be leakers and insisted on going through the full court martial, including on a charge that Manning had ‘aided the enemy.’
The punishment on the ‘aiding’ charge is death or life imprisonment. But though the prosecution said it was not seeking Manning’s execution, this was the single count on which the judge found Manning not guilty.
In previous non-espionage cases of leaking the punishment has been more lenient. But analysts argues that while the other cases tended to be single-issue and involved significantly less documentation, Manning would always be aggressively targeted by the White House be cause of the sheer volume and breadth of his disclosures.
And the record reveals that leaking classified documents is a special burr beneath the saddle of the Obama administration, which has taken more cases against leakers than all its predecessors combined.
“The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the US will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official power.”