In Depth

Bradley Manning: 'overzealous' prosecution backfired on US

Opinion split on whether 25-year-old whistleblower's 35-year jail term is harsh or 'tame'

BRADLEY MANNING, the soldier jailed for 35 years for passing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, will ask President Obama to pardon him, The Guardian says.

Manning was given a 35-year jail term yesterday by a military judge, but told he would be eligible for parole after serving one-third of the sentence. The 25-year-old, who will be given a dishonourable discharge from the army, will send a "personal plea" to the US president next week, the paper says.

Commentators said the sentence imposed on Manning was harsh, despite the fact it was considerably lower than the 60-year term sought by prosecutors. The soldier's legal team said that taking into account the time he has already served, he will be eligible for parole in around seven years. That means he could be released under parole as soon as 2021.

The news of Bradley Manning's sentencing is devastating. If our own can't speak up about injustice who will? How will we ever move forward?

 

— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) August 21, 2013

But not everyone thinks Manning will get bail. Gary Myers, a lawyer who has represented several high-profile military defendants, told the Washington Times that the young soldier was unlikely to be granted bail "because of the very serious nature of the offence."

"This man is going to leave prison in his 40s with his youth spent in jail, and I think that is appropriate," Myers said.Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the Washington Post the sentence was a "sad day" for both Manning and Americans who "depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate".

"When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system," said Wizner referring to the jail terms given to military personnel convicted of torturing prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

The Washington Post says the hefty sentence imposed on Manning "is likely to hearten national security officials" rattled by subsequent leaks by Edward Snowden. It believes the jail term may encourage the US to bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, "the man who was instrumental in the publication of the documents".

But writing in Time magazine, Denver Nicks takes a different view. He suggests the sentence imposed on Manning by judge Denise Lind is proof the military's "overzealous" prosecution of the whistleblower backfired.

Nicks points out that the judge has imposed a jail term that is only ten years more than Manning offered to serve in a plea deal as the trial began. "When compared with the hysteria that characterised the official response to Manning's leaks three years ago, a sentence of 35 years with a chance at parole and perhaps credit for time served begins to look rather tame," writes Nicks.

It could be argued that the military went in hard against Manning, he says, because it wanted to deter other service personnel from leaking secrets. If that was its aim, it has failed. Edward Snowden, whose NSA leaks have spurred a fierce national debate about the ballooning surveillance state, has called Manning a "classic whistleblower" and apparently studied Manning's mistakes so as not to repeat them, writes Nicks.

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