Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in jail

US soldier Bradley Manning will serve 35 years in jail for handing over thousands of confidential government documents to Wikileaks.

The 25-year-old army private was found guilty of most charges levelled against him by the US government earlier this month, including violations of the US Espionage Act for distributing the documents while still serving as an intelligence analyst.

Manning was convicted of 20 offences in total last month, including six counts of violating the Act, five counts of theft, and computer fraud. He was cleared of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, but still faced up to 136 years in jail.

Making an example of Manning in this way tells all whistleblowers that they will not be protected for exposing the worst abuses of power

According to the terms of the sentence, Manning will have to serve a third of the 35-year term before he becomes eligible for parole.

He has already served three and a half years, including a 112-day deduction after a judge ruled he had been unfairly treated while detained at a military base before his trial.

The reduction means that Manning may only have to serve a further eight years in jail before being eligible for parole. Wikileaks described the sentence as a “strategic victory” and said it believed Manning could be eligible for parole in less than five years.

Manning has also avoided a possible $100,000 fine, though the judge reduced his rank, gave him a dishonourable discharge and stated he must forfeit his wages and allowances.

Secret cables and war reports

Manning first came to public attention in May 2010, after he was arrested for handing over classified government video and war reports relating to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was also accused of passing on information on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and a large volume of private diplomatic cables.

Manning became the target of an FBI investigation after Wikileaks began publishing the documents in February 2010 in an explosive series that included landmark footage of a US helicopter attack on two Reuters journalists. The so-called “Collateral Murder” video put Wikileaks in the spotlight, showing how US pilots mistook the journalists for armed fighters and shot at them.

Wikileaks also partnered with three media organisations, The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel to publish the diplomatic cables.

Civil liberties campaigners immediately criticised Manning’s sentence, suggesting his treatment would prevent future whistleblowers from coming forward.

It’s thought that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden fled the US after leaking classified files proving mass spying to the media in order to avoid Manning’s fate.

“Sadly this sentence continues the mistreatment that Bradley Manning has experienced at the hands of the US government,” said Index on Censorship CEO Kirsty Hughes.

“Making an example of Manning in this way tells all whistleblowers that they will not be protected for exposing the worst abuses of power.”

In his 35-page statement to the court earlier this year, Manning said he leaked the material to “spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general.”

Presidential pardon

Manning’s defence team announced they would apply for a presidential pardon, mainly due to alleged rights violations during his detention and trial. In legal terms, a full pardon would mean forgiving Manning both his crime and sentence. Campaigners had previously called for clemency – forgiveness of the crime and part cancellation of the penalty – or a sentence reduction.

Attorney David Coombs will apply for a pardon on the basis that Manning was deprived of his right to a speedy trial after being held for more than three and a half years.

Coombs will also highlight psychological torture after nine months of solitary confinement, and “unlawful influence” after President Obama prematurely declared Manning guilty before his trial had even begun. Finally, the government was also permitted to change its charge sheet after both sides had concluded their cases.

Manning’s lawyers are expected to give a full statement later today.

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