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Mr. Manning -- now the second highest profile leaker -- received a relatively lenient sentence

(Former) U.S. Private First Class Bradley Manning was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in prison and dishonorably discharged after being found guilty of charges relating to the leaking of numerous classified government documents to the site Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

I. The Sentence

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Judge Col. Denise Lind delivered a key win for the prosecution agreeing to merge certain offenses, such that the maximum consecutive sentence Mr. Manning faced was 90 years in prison, rather than the 136 years he initially faced following the guilt determination phase.  In that phase, Mr. Manning notably was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, an accusation that could have carried a death sentence.

At the sentencing hearing prosecutors wanted at least 60 years, while his defense wanted twenty years -- or roughly two-and-a-half times the length of the most severe (10-year individual sentence) offenses he was convicted of.  

Leak -- blood
Mr. Manning escaped a potential death sentence in the guilt ruling and escaped life in prison in the sentencing ruling.

Predictably, Judge Lind decided somewhere in the middle, leaving both sides somewhat dissatisfied.

She ruled that the 3 and 1/2 effective "years" Mr. Manning had already served since his 2010 arrest (a total inflated by time in solitary confinement) would count towards the 35-year sentence.  That leaves Mr. Manning with only 31 and 1/2 years left in the sentence.

II. Release by 2021?

If he does not win an appeal or get parole, he would be 56 years old when he gets out of federal prison.  However, in all likelihood he will get out long before then.

One possibility -- albeit unlikely -- is an appeal or a pardon.  His defense attorney, David Coombs, was not pleased with the verdict and vowed to fight for an even more reduced sentence during the appeals phase.  That phase is automatic (as all such cases receive an appeal) and will be held before the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.  Pretrial hearings for the appeal already started in 2012 pending this year's sentencing outcome; the appeals trial itself will start in June.

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning, 25, was sentenced this week. [Image Source: AP]

Mr. Coombs told reporters he will seek a presidential pardon, remarking:

Pfc. Manning was one of the brave Americans who was not willing to remain silent.  Instead he decided to provide us with information that he believed would spark reform, would spark debate and he provided us with information that he believed might change the world.  The time to end Brad's suffering is now.  The time for our president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now.

Regardless of the merit or villainy of Mr. Manning's actions, there is some truth in his lawyer's statement.  The Obama administration has charged more than twice as many self-proclaimed "whistleblowers" with Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 792) offenses as all the previous administrations before him (since the Act was passed in 1917) combined, according to The Guardian.  While some of these individuals are certainly guilty, the sheer number would seemingly suggest that the Obama administration was indeed at times using legal strong-arm tactics to have a "chilling effect" on the reporting of government corruption, a dangerous precedent.

That said, the administration was unequivocal on its view of Mr. Manning.  At a fundraiser in April 2011, Mr. Obama was asked about Mr. Manning.  He commented:

We're a nation of laws.  We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

It seems unlikely that the President would have changed his mind, so a pardon attempt seems mere showmanship.  A sentence reduction in the appeals phase is also unlikely, although within the realm of possibility.

Much more likely is the possibility of parole.  Mr. Manning's lawyer said that with military court parole rules, if Mr. Manning continues his good behavior as a prisoner, he could be eligible for parole in 6 and 1/2 years.  In that circumstance he could see freedom by the age of 32.

Being granted parole is by no means guaranteed, particularly in controversial high profile cases.  But all in all it seems that Mr. Manning got off relatively light, going from a possible death penalty hearing to 136 years in prison, then next from 136 years in prison to 90 years, then from 90 years to 35 years, and finally from 35 years to potentially 6 and 1/2 years with time served and early release for good behavior factored in.

III. Seemingly Sincere Apology Played a Role in Somewhat Lenient Sentencing

Judge Lind clearly factored Mr. Manning's seemingly sincere apology into that significant reduction.   In a previous hearing last Wednesday Mr. Manning stated:

First, your honor, I want to start off with an apology.  I am sorry. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States.

I did not truly appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those effects are clearer to me now through both self-reflection during my confinement in its various forms and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here. I look back at my decisions and wonder, 'How on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?'

In the military, we have rules and regulations and structures designed to safeguard sensitive information, whether it be classified or unclassified; and I circumvented those … I'm not the right pay-grade to make these decisions or anything.

In retrospect, I should have worked more aggressively inside the system as we discussed during the Providence Statement and had options and I should have used these options.

The Guardian has a full in-depth analysis of the apology and how it compares and contrasts to Mr. Manning's February admission of guilt on certain charges under his plea deal.

Manning wide
Bradley Manning pled guilty to lesser versions of 10 of the 22 charges.  On Wednesday he was sentenced to 35 years in prison -- 31 and 1/2 years with time served. [Image Source: AP]

Some will argue the apology was coerced, but there does appear to be a great deal of truth in the statement.  Mr. Manning was demoted before he leaked much of the information.  He was bullied over his sexuality and harassed by fellow soldiers before he leaked the information.

IV. Compromise May Well be the Meaning of Justice

There are some who argue Mr. Manning's actions are entirely justified and that he should walk free today and that these tribulations may have played an impact on him making the decision to leak -- whether or not it was the right one. And of course, there are many that believe he acted illegally and that he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for treason.

Bradley Manning sign
PFC Manning was allegedly bullied in the armed forces for his relatively open homosexuality. [Image Source:]

Thus whatever your feelings about Mr. Manning remember these facts:
  • He has been found guilty of lesser charges.  
  • He has been found innocent of the biggest charge, aiding the enemy
  • He has been sentenced to prison.
  • He has only been sentenced to 35 years, out of a possible 136 years and may see release within 6 and 1/2 years.
  • His actions were in part motivated by harassment and personal problems, according to his own statements.
  • His actions were also in part motivated out of [his perceived] desire to do good.
Arguably the sentencing and the motivations illustrate a similar dichotomy.  So consider this: although the sentence is unlikely to satisfy his passionate support nor his passionate critics, the sentence may well be the very embodiment of justice -- compromise.

Sources: AP via WRAL, NPR, Manning Apology via The Guadian

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Grit on 8/22/2013 3:12:30 AM , Rating: 2
There are consequences for every action you take. Why does our society now complain when we attempt to enforce those pre-prescribed consequences?

He knew what he was doing when he did it, and what the consequences could be. That he does not have to pay them in full is a gift that should never have been given.

Being bullied doesn't justify what he did either. If he deserved some compensation for any mistreatment, he should have perused that appropriately.

RE: Consequences
By PaFromFL on 8/22/2013 8:30:09 AM , Rating: 2
More specifically, there are consequences for actions that threaten the power and wealth of the one percenters, and there are seldom consequences for actions that increase their power and wealth. The main purpose of modern wars is to make money and grab power, at the expense of the lower classes who die or are maimed for the cause. When a small minority of greedy bastards ruin the economy, loot corporations, stuff classified documents down their pants in a cover up, assassinate American citizens with drones with no due process, lie to Congress, start a war for completely false purposes, etc., the only consequences are bailouts and book deals.

RE: Consequences
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/22/2013 10:00:27 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure what the upper 1% has to do with breaking one's oath, or breaking the bond of trust that existed between this individual and his superiors, nor his country.

Manning signed paperwork when he was granted special trust by the US government. That paperwork clearly outlined he would face a minimum of 20 years in prison if he was found to have broken that trust at any point. Someone who can't keep their word has no honor or integrity. If he didn't like what he did, he was perfectly free to not re-enlist, and pursue other employment once his term of service had ended. Instead he chose to do the wrong thing and he is going to pay for that choice. No different than paying for having shot someone in cold blood, or hitting a pedestrian with a vehicle. You do the crime, you will do the time.

As for the sentence itself, 35 years was a light sentence. Given the nature of the crime I doubt Obama or any president would pardon him. That would set a bad precedent. On the positive side, when he does get out, no respectable organization will ever employ someone that has demonstrated no honor, no integrity, and has a nice large dishonorable discharge pinned to his shirt. Life as he knows it, is effectively over.

The only tragedy is that by the time he gets out, publishers will be lining up for book deals. He will have a nice comfortable retirement after one of those things hits the market. Hell there might even be a movie about it, the "brave struggle by a lone sexually confused boy in a war zone, and his desire to spread truth to the world".

RE: Consequences
By PaFromFL on 8/22/2013 4:09:00 PM , Rating: 2
I was just pointing out that when the ruling class breaks their oaths or the bonds of trust there are seldom consequences, other than getting richer or more powerful. The real crime here is the abuse of power by the USA. Manning's actions did not hurt the "war" efforts, but they did threaten the ruling class by exposing the futility, cruelty, fraud, and underlying motives of the "wars". If you peer under the whitewash, many laws are written and enforced to keep the playing field tilted toward the rich and powerful.

RE: Consequences
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 8/23/2013 2:05:25 PM , Rating: 2
Personally I'd throw their asses in jail too. Break the oath or the paperwork you signed, instant jail time. People would stop breaking it pretty quick once they couldn't get away with it anymore.

RE: Consequences
By superstition on 8/22/2013 2:58:43 PM , Rating: 2
There are consequences for every action you take. Why does our society now complain when we attempt to enforce those pre-prescribed consequences?

argumentum ad baculum

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