Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret military documents to the transparency advocacy website WikiLeaks.
The Associated Press reports that Manning did not seem to react when the sentence was handed down by military judge Col. Denise Lind without explanation during the brief hearing.
Many spectators were shocked, with one woman in the gallery very audibly gasping.
“I’m shocked. I did not think she would do that,” said Jim Holland, a Manning supporter. “Thirty-five years, my Lord.”
The American Civil Liberties Union was immediately critical of the sentence.
“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,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
Though 35 years is indeed the majority of Manning’s life, he was found guilty last month of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, part of the Obama administration’s dramatic crackdown on leaks to the media.
The judge did acquit Manning of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. This would have automatically resulted in life imprisonment without parole.
Even without the aiding the enemy charge, Manning was still facing a possible 90 years in prison with prosecutors saying they’d settle for 60 as a warning to other soldiers. Manning’s defense team argued that he shouldn’t get more than 25 since his leaked documents would be declassified by then anyway.
Manning will get credit for time served (three years) but will still have to serve at least one-third of his 35 years before he is eligible for parole. That would be roughly 12 years from now. Meanwhile, his rank was reduced to private, he was dishonorably discharged, and he forfeited his pay.
During the sentencing phase, Manning did apologize for his part in the leaks, but emphasized that he didn’t do it to intentionally hurt the U.S. or her interests.
“When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” he said.
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