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While a whistleblower who exposed war crimes like Chelsea Manning, received a 30 year sentence, General David Petraeus was let off with a $100,000 fine and probation for his leak-related crimes. (Photo: Getty Images/file)

In Order to Keep Leaky General Out of Jail, Powerbrokers Went for Broke

Letters written to judge ahead of sentencing for Gen. David Petraeus reveal gross hyprocrisy over who should be punished for leaking government secrets

Jon Queally

Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who revealed evidence of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, is serving 30 years in federal prison. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who stood up against agency torture, just finished a two-year prison term. Jeffrey Sterling, sentenced in a case that accused him of blowing the whistle on CIA misconduct regarding an operation of sabotage in Iran, just received a similar sentencing after being charged with disclosing secrets to a New York Times journalist. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked troves of information about the U.S. government's global dragnet, remains under ayslum protection in Russia in order to avoid federal charges under the Espionage Act.

This is just a partial list of those accused by the U.S. government of leaking classified material that are serving, or could still serve, serious sentences for their decision to leak sensitive material in the name of the public good. However, when it comes to (Ret.) General David Petraeus, who led U.S. military forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq before later serving as head of the CIA, the rules of punishment are quite different.

As newly released court documents show, when it came time for Petraeus' criminal sentencing after pleading guilty to a "misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information" for giving his biographer, who also happened to be his mistress, secret military documents — high-powered friends, many of whom have called for severe punishments for whistleblowers, came out of the woodwork to demand leniency.

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As Bloomberg reports:

An array of friends in high places came to the aid of retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus as he faced sentencing for providing classified data to his mistress, newly released court papers show.

Senator Lindsey Graham and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were among almost three dozen people who wrote a federal judge urging leniency for Petraeus. The former general was sentenced to two years probation after he signed a plea deal to avoid jail time.

The documents were filed under seal until a challenge by media organizations including Bloomberg News resulted in the papers being released Monday under the Freedom of Information Act.

And Lee Fang, writing for The Intercept, which was also party to the effort to get the court documents released, adds:

Among the current and former lawmakers who wrote in was former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who has pushed for strict anti-leak legislation and who said in 2010 that the individuals responsible for WikiLeaks “are going to have blood on their hands.” WikiLeaks was “not only an attack on our national security, but an offense against our democracy and the principle of transparency,” he told CBS News.

Just a few years later, he said that Petraeus’s offense, by contrast, “showed that even such an extraordinary human being can make mistakes and yield to public temptation.”

“Dave is also humanly flawed, as many of us are, for which he has paid a huge price both personally and professionally,” wrote Admiral Michael McMullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., also wrote in on Petraeus’s behalf, though he regularly blasts the Obama administration for national security leaks, but argued that his “friend” Petraeus should not see jail time. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has called Edward Snowden’s actions “treason,” wrote that she believes Petraeus “recognizes the error of his actions as well as the importance of protecting classified information.”

David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media Group, which publishes The Atlantic and The National Journal, among other publications, wrote that he had heard the argument, “layers and layers deep into the city,” that “the Justice Department exercise its discretion not to prosecute the general.”

The Intercept posted all 34 letters sent on Petraeus' behalf on their website here.


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