An Army judge on Wednesday sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in a military prison for orchestrating the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
Manning’s sentence means the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst could eventually walk out of prison as a free, albeit much older, man. He had faced what could have effectively been a life sentence.
The same judge who sentenced Manning, Col. Denise Lind, had also previously acquitted him on an aiding-the-enemy charge that carried a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
On July 30, Lind found Manning guilty of 20 counts relating to the theft of an estimated 700,000 documents that ranged from diplomatic cables and intelligence assessments to a graphic video of a U.S. Apache helicopter attack. Lind consolidated some of the charges so that the maximum Manning faced was 90 years.
Prosecutors had asked that Manning be sentenced to 60 years.
“There may not be a soldier in the history of the United States Army who displayed such an extreme disregard for the judgment of the officers appointed above him and the orders of the president of the United States,” Army Capt. Joseph Morrow, one of the prosecutors, declared during a sentencing hearing. “He created a grave risk of harm to national security due to the volume of information he disclosed. He disrupted ongoing military and diplomatic missions and he endangered the well-being of innocent civilians and soldiers.”
Defense attorney David Coombs had urged Lind to impose a sentence that allowed Manning to “have a life” upon leaving prison, insisting that “Manning really truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference” and that “he believed that the information couldn’t be used to harm the United States.”
Manning provided the material to WikiLeaks, a website which publishes government and corporate secrets from the United States and other countries. Manning and Coombs had argued the leaks were well-intentioned, but also the actions of a troubled young man who was under considerable stress while struggling to cope in a poorly managed Army unit.
Manning can apply for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.
“I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions,” Manning told Lind during a sentencing hearing on Aug. 14. “When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt peopleI 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?’”
The court martial was held at Fort Meade, a tightly secured facility north of Washington, D.C. that’s also the home of the secretive National Security Agency. A stenographer funded by public and media contributions provided a running transcript of the trial proceedings that began June 3.
Manning had agreed to plead guilty to certain charges that had carried a potential prison sentence of 20 years, but prosecutors charged him with additional counts, including espionage.
His sentence will be offset by more than 1,100 days for his pre-trial confinement and an additional 112 days to compensate for the severe treatment he received while held at a Marine Corps brig, where authorities contended he posed a suicide risk. Future good behavior in prison could further shave time from his sentence.
To shape her sentencing decision, which she reached after about a day of formal deliberations, Lind heard testimony from witnesses in both closed and open court sessions. The government’s military and State Department witnesses emphasized the damage done by Manning’s actions and the subsequent publication by WikiLeaks.
“When this data got out, there was a number of foreign partners that were routinely engaged with me who became greatly concerned whether we were still a trusted partner and whether we could still engage in intel operations with them and they wanted to know‘should we stop cooperation and how bad is this going to be?”” retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, formerly with the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified.
A Pentagon official in charge of the military’s anti-improvised explosive device organization cited “the changes in enemy IED” following the Manning leak to WikiLeaks. State Department officials testified about the consequences of having some 250,000 department documents being made public.
Defense witnesses focused on Manning’s troubled upbringing as the child of alcoholic parents. Beset with anxiety even before enlisting, Manning was prescribed the anti-anxiety drug, Lexapro. Once in the Army, a defense witness recounted, Manning received mental health counseling for angry outbursts.
One diagnosis determined the gay, slightly-built Manning suffered from “gender identity disorder,” which included periods when he passed himself off as a woman.
“He tends to exhibit kind of grandiose ideas, and also arrogant and haughty behaviors that become more evident when he’s upset,” Navy Capt. David Moulton, a psychiatrist who interviewed Manning at length, said at the sentencing hearing.
Manning’s grandiose delusions, Moulton added, led the young Army private first class to believe he could “do something great” with his life and further led him to underestimate the trouble he’d catch for leaking military documents.
“I understand that I must pay a price for my decisions and actions,” Manning told Lind on Aug. 15. “Once I pay that price, I hope to one day live in the manner I haven’t been able to in the past. I want to be a better person – to go to college, to get a degree – and to have a meaningful relationship with my sister’s family and my family.”
The Associated Press also contributed to this report