US soldier Bradley Manning has been jailed for 35 years for giving hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic secrets to the WikiLeaks website.
In a brief hearing, the military judge did not offer any explanation for the sentence.
The closely watched case has seen the 25-year-old called both a whistleblower and a traitor. Amnesty International and the Bradley Manning Support Network have announced an online petition asking president Barack Obama to pardon Manning
Prosecutors wanted at least a 60-year prison sentence, saying it would dissuade other soldiers from following in Manning’s footsteps. The defence suggested a prison term of no more than 25 years so that Manning could rebuild his life.
Military prisoners can earn up to 120 days a year off their sentence for good behaviour and job performance, but they must serve at least one-third of any prison sentence before they can become eligible for parole.
Manning will get credit for about 3 1/2 years of pretrial confinement, including 112 days for being illegally punished by harsh conditions at a Marine Corps brig. His lawyers asserted he was locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day, forced to sleep naked for several nights and required to stand naked at attention one morning.
Manning leaked more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department diplomatic messages in 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
He was convicted last month of 20 offences, including six Espionage Act violations, five theft counts and computer fraud. Prosecutors were unable to prove that he aided the enemy, a crime punishable by life in prison.
Manning has apologised and said he wanted to provoke a debate on the country’s military and diplomatic actions. “I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” he said last week.
His defence team said he was under severe mental pressure as a young man struggling with gender identity issues at a time when openly gay people were not allowed to serve in the military.
Prosecutors said the leaks endangered the lives of US intelligence sources and prompted several ambassadors to be recalled, reassigned or expelled.
Prosecutors requested a far longer prison term than other soldiers have received in recent decades for sharing government secrets.
Albert T. Sombolay got a 34-year-sentence in 1991 for giving a Jordanian intelligence agent information on the build-up for the first Iraq war, plus other documents and samples of chemical protection equipment. Clayton Lonetree, the only Marine ever convicted of espionage, was given a 30-year sentence, later reduced to 15 years, for giving the Soviet KGB the identities of CIA agents and the floor plans of the embassies in Moscow and Vienna in the early 1980s.
A look at the key elements of the Bradley Manning case:
WHAT WAS MANNING CONVICTED OF?
A judge convicted Manning of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations and theft and computer fraud. He faced a possible maximum of 90 years in prison. He was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.
WHAT DID MANNING DO?
The 25-year-old leaked more than 700,000 classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables in 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad. Manning also leaked a 2007 video clip of a US helicopter crew killing at least nine men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.
WHAT HARM DID THE PROSECUTORS’ EVIDENCE SHOW?
Government witnesses said the leaks endangered people who were named as information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of them move for their safety. Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.
Prosecutors showed that al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video. Osama bin Laden obtained, and presumably read, some of the leaked documents, the evidence showed.
WHAT WERE THE DEFENCE’S PRINCIPAL ARGUMENTS?
The defence focused on Manning’s inner turmoil over his gender identity and isolation in a military that at the time barred homosexuals from serving openly. Mental health experts testified that the stress, combined with narcissistic tendencies and youthful idealism, caused Manning to believe he could change the way the world perceived war by leaking classified information.
Defence lawyer David Coombs also presented evidence that Manning’s unit needed intelligence analysts so badly that a supervisor didn’t report to commanders his concerns that Manning’s mental health was deteriorating.
WHY DID HE DO IT?
Manning has said he leaked the material to expose the US military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for human life, and what he considered US diplomatic duplicity. He said he chose information he believed would not the harm the United States, and he wanted to start a debate on military and foreign policy.
In a courtroom statement Manning apologized for causing harm to people and the United States, but not for revealing US secrets. “When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” he said.
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT?
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The judge did not offer any explanation for the sentence.
Manning faced up to 90 years in prison, but the prosecution asked the judge to sentence him to only 60. Prosecutors did not address why they did not seek the maximum punishment, but the government was unable to show that Manning knew the documents would get to al Qaida.
The soldier’s defence did not recommend a specific punishment, but suggested any prison term should o’t exceed 25 years because that is when the classification of some documents Manning leaked will expire.
WILL THE FINDINGS BE APPEALED?
Under military law, the verdict and sentence must be reviewed – and may be reduced – by the commander of the Military District of Washington. If the commander approves a sentence that includes a bad-conduct discharge, a dishonourable discharge or confinement for a year or more, the case will be automatically reviewed by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. Further appeals can be made to the military’s highest court, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, and the US Supreme Court.