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Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison for WikiLeaks disclosures

Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in prison for WikiLeaks disclosures

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Bradley Manning's court-martial reached an end today, with Army Colonel Denise Lind sentencing him to 35 years in prison. She also ordered a reduction in rank to private, a forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge. He will receive credit for 1,294 days for time served. According to an Army spokesman, Manning would be eligible for parole after serving 1/3 of his sentence; with additional credit for time served, he could face 8-9 years. Manning also has the possibility of a clemency finding that would reduce his sentence.

The WikiLeaks source, arrested in Iraq in 2010 for releasing nearly 700,000 government documents to WikiLeaks, was found not guilty of the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy," which could have resulted in life imprisonment. Manning was found guilty on virtually all other charges under the Espionage Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the code of military justice. The verdict left him facing a maximum 136 years; Lind later found the government had overcharged Manning and reduced that number to 90 years. Within the military justice system, Colonel Lind does not have to explain the reasoning behind Manning's sentence. She did not, taking less than two minutes to read the sentence. Bradley Manning showed no visible response.

Before delivering the sentence, Lind reminded attendees about court rules barring outbursts from the gallery. After she finished reading the verdict and excited the courtroom, several Manning supporters reportedly yelled, "We'll keep fighting for you, Bradley" and "You're our hero."

Much of the prosecution's case took place behind closed doors in order to present classified information

During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecution and defense jousted over the question of consequences. The prosecution sought to demonstrate that Manning's leaks had damaged relationships between American diplomats and their foreign counterparts, for example, but could present only speculative evidence in open court. Colonel Lind rejected testimony about alleged "ongoing" damage from the leaks. Much of the prosecution's case took place behind closed doors in order to present classified information.

Manning's sentencing defense focused on his mental and emotional state at the time of the leaks, portraying him as an isolated soldier suffering from "gender dysphoria," a condition in which a person's subjective understanding of gender conflicts with his or her outward experience of gender. Such long-term experience causes "clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The defense argued Manning should have received mental health care from the Army and been removed from duty before the time of his leaks.

Defense witnesses also described Manning as an idealist who overestimated his authority and ability to provoke a discussion about the documents he released. In a brief statement, he apologized for his actions, saying, "At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues. Although they have caused me considerable difficulty in my life, these issues do not excuse my actions." He expressed a desire to return to society and rebuild a relationship with his family, including the aunt and sister who'd testified about Manning's childhood as the son of alcoholic, dysfunctional parents. "Before I can do that, though," he said, "I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions."

In closing arguments Monday, the prosecution asked the court to sentence Manning to 60 years, plus a $100,000 fine.  "He betrayed the United States," a prosecuting attorney said, "and for that betrayal he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement." The government has also consistently emphasized a desire to make Manning an example. "There’s value in deterrence," said the prosecutor.

"There’s value in deterrence."

Defense attorneys countered that a repentant Manning could still find his place as a productive member of society. "Your honor, the defense requests that you judge a sentence that allows him to have a life," defense attorney David Coombs said. Coombs responded to the prosecution's request for 60 years by suggesting Manning would be in jail long after the information he released had been officially declassified. He did not suggest a number of his own.

"The defense requests that you judge a sentence that allows him to have a life."

Manning will receive credit for time served, more than 1000 days, plus a 112-day credit ordered by Colonel Lind for pre-trial treatment she described as "more rigorous than necessary." Manning spent nine months in solitary confinement in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia; he spent 23 hours a day in the windowless cell and was often deprived of his clothing. He is working with his defense attorney on a clemency process hoping to reduce his sentence. The defense also plans to petition President Obama for a pardon.

Under military justice, the case will next move to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals for automatic review, during which the court can decide whether to hear additional arguments. Before that can happen, transcripts of the current trial (which began in June) have to be prepared and approved by the prosecution and defense — likely to be a lengthy process. As the case progresses, Manning will likely be held at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.