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Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison

Bradley Manning is sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking documents to WikiLeaks.

Editor’s note, August 22, 2013: Chelsea Manning has announced through her lawyer that she identifies as female and wishes to begin hormone therapy “as soon as possible.” Truthout will use Manning’s chosen name and female pronouns in all future reporting and commentary.

At 10 AM August 21, 2013, Pvt. Bradley Manning’s trial drew to a close and he was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking 700,000 military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. The verdict instantly awoke action in his supporters as they organized protests in major cities across the country in places like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and more. The hashtag #BecauseofBradleyManning trended across America as people on Twitter voiced their gratitude for Manning’s courage in revealing the truth.

Prosecutors had asked for a 60-year sentence, but its reduction to 35 is still the longest punishment ever given to a US government leaker. Manning won’t be eligible for parole until he has served one-third of his sentence, which is 12 years. He has served more than three years already, which means his best-case scenario is parole after eight years in prison, at which time he’ll be 33.

Former President George W. Bush has claimed that leaks “cause great harm to the United States,” a sentiment echoed by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“We’re already talking about this entirely too much out in public as a result of these leaks, and it’s endangering our efforts to make Americans more secure,” McConnell said.

In a press release the Center for Constitutional Rights stated that it doesn’t believe Manning should have been prosecuted.

“Where is the harm?” CCR senior staff attorney Shayana Kadidal asked when interviewed by Truthout. “Because of Manning’s leak, we saw the Arab Spring happen and nearly all our troops withdrawn from Iraq. So we ask, who is more responsible for bringing our troops home than Bradley Manning?”

The American Civil Liberties Union also commented on the verdict. “A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”

In addition to being lauded by many for his part in sparking the Arab Spring, bringing home United States soldiers, and keeping citizens informed, investigative journalist Robert Parry recently argued that Manning helped the United States avoid war with Iran by discrediting the International Atomic Energy Agency before it could potentially influence the public in favor of war with a release of “evidence” that Iran was nearing a nuclear bomb.

Whistleblowing going forward

Many believe that Manning’s severe verdict was given to discourage others from following in his footsteps. Edward Snowden, who was responsible for leaking the National Security Agency’s program PRISM this year, has cited Manning as an inspiration.

But whatever the intent of the punishment, it’s unlikely to stop whistleblowers. The Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Paul Lewis, spoke with former leaker Daniel Ellsberg, who told him that Manning’s 35-year sentence will not deter all future whistleblowers.

Mike Bochenek, director of law and policy at Amnesty International agreed, saying, “At the end of the day, when governments try to keep secret what should be public, this information will come out regardless of government attempts to suppress it. The age of secrets is on its way out.”

And the fight for Bradley Manning is far from over. His lawyer, David Coombs, is applying for a presidential pardon to restore Manning to the state of innocence he had prior to leaking information. And the case is being brought to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to address problems with Manning’s due-process rights after he was detained without trial for three years and declared guilty by President Barack Obama two years before his trial began.

The Bradley Manning Support Network, funded by the public and responsible for 100 percent of Manning’s legal fees, says it’s not giving up the fight.

“By successfully funding Bradley’s legal efforts and by mobilizing worldwide support, we won an acquittal on “aiding the enemy,” says Jeff Paterson, the group’s director. “We move forward today on every available front to win his freedom.”

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