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'Travesty of Justice': Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

'Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers'

Andrea Germanos

Army whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday for releasing a trove of government and military documents to WikiLeaks.

Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, delivered the sentence that, while much shorter than the 60 years sought by prosecutors, is unprecedented for a media leak, the Brennan Center for Justice stated.

He will also be dishonorably discharged, have his rank reduced and will forfeit pay.  He is eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.

The 25-year-old has already spent over 1200 days in confinement, which will be taken off his sentence. That time includes 112 days taken off for the torture he endured under months of solitary confinement.

Last month, Manning was convicted of 20 charges, seen by many as a sign of the administration's war on whistleblowers and a 'dangerous precedent' for WikiLeaks' Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

At the end of February, in pre-trial hearings, Manning explained his motivation for the leaks, saying, "I believed if the public, particularly the American public, could see this it could spark a debate on the military and our foreign policy in general as it applied to Iraq and Afghanistan. It might cause society to reconsider the need to engage in counter terrorism while ignoring the human situation of the people we engaged with every day."

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and now attorney for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, was among the few individuals in the room at the military court facility in Fort Meade, Maryland, as Manning made that declaration.  Ratner wrote at the time:

Over the course of nearly two hours, Private Manning detailed with startling clarity his precise motivations for each leak.  On the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Logs, he expressed his shock and dismay at the rampant use of targeted killings as a conflict-resolution tactic.  On the Reykjavik 13 cable: the world should know of the U.S. and U.K.’s bullying tactics against Iceland to accept austerity measures in the wake of the global financial meltdown.  On the Iraqi police’s arrests and disappearances of anti-corruption leafleters: that U.S. should not support those stifling democratic processes in Iraq.  On the Guantanamo detainee files: the Obama administration’s stance is two-faced, claiming on the one hand to want to close the prison, yet on the other, knowingly holding innocent and low-level prisoners.  On the State Department cable leak: the so-called “leader of the free world” engaged in “seemingly criminal activity” via backdoor deals is wrong and hypocritical. And on the most famous of his leaks, the “Collateral Murder” video: the soldiers’ “bloodlust” as they wantonly shot Reuters journalists whom they had mistaken for insurgents from an apache helicopter, along with the ensuing cover-up must be open to public review.

Upon Wednesday's sentencing, an "outraged" CCR said that convicting Manning under the "archaic" Espionage Act sends "an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information."

"Something is seriously wrong with our justice system," added Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, "when a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians."

Echoing this, the CCR continued: 

It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated.  Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers – who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing – and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.

Defense lawywer David Coombs is expected to address media at 1:30 EST, and Firedoglake will be live-streaming the press conference.

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