FT. MEADE, MD. — In his crisp blue uniform, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning rose to his feet in a small crowded courtroom Wednesday morning and was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Manning, who could have been sentenced to 90 years, stood at attention and showed no emotion as the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, delivered the sentence. As soon as Lind left the bench, Army guards quickly rushed Manning out of the courtroom.
“We’ll keep fighting for you Bradley!” shouted half a dozen Manning supporters among the 45 spectators in the courtroom. “You’re our hero!”
That short scene, lasting no more than two minutes, ended more than three years of legal jousting and a summer-long court-martial that highlighted the growing national debate about government secrecy.
It sets the stage for his defense lawyers to seek clemency with his commanding general and pursue other legal appeals as the 25-year-old former junior intelligence analyst prepares for transfer to the Army’s central prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.
Lind also reduced Manning’s rank to private, ordered forfeiture of all Army allowances and payments, and gave him a dishonorable discharge. He was given a credit of 1,294 days for pre-trial confinement since his arrest in May 2010. In theory, he may be eligible to apply for parole in as few as eight years.
Manning was convicted of 20 criminal charges last month, including six violations of the Espionage Act. But Lind also acquitted him of the far more serious charge of aiding the enemy, which could have sent Manning to prison for life.
Military prosecutors had asked for at least 60 years in prison for Manning, a short, thin man from rural Oklahoma who excelled at computers and intelligence analysis. Once he was deployed to Iraq in late 2009, his lawyers said, he became disillusioned by the U.S. military’s twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His defense team asked that he be sentenced to no more than 25 years so that he could attend college some day. His lawyers pleaded for leniency, saying that he suffered from “gender identity disorder” and other emotional problems after a childhood scarred by the heavy drinking of two alcoholic parents.
Manning apologized for his actions last week, telling the judge he did not mean to “hurt” the public or the United States. In all, he copied and disseminated more than 700,000 war logs, terror detainee assessments and State Department cables from a forward operating base in Iraq.