A military judge on Wednesday sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, a gigantic leak that lifted the veil on military and diplomatic activities around the world.
Pfc. Bradley Manning was escorted into a courthouse for sentencing on Wednesday in Fort Meade, Md.
The sentence is the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information to be reported to the public. Private Manning will apparently be eligible for parole in slightly more than eight years.
In a two-minute hearing on Wednesday morning, the judge, Army Col. Denise R. Lind, also said that Private Manning would be reduced in rank from private first class to E1, a lower rank of private and the lowest rank in the military. She said he would forfeit all pay and would be dishonorably discharged. She did not impose a fine.
Before the sentencing, Private Manning sat leaning forward with his hands folded, occasionally whispering to his lawyer, David Coombs. His sister and his aunt sat quietly behind him. When Colonel Lind read the sentence, Private Manning stood, showing no expression. He did not make a statement. Mr. Coombs is expected to speak on his behalf to reporters later today.
The materials that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists.
Immediately after the judge banged the gavel and left, military guards flanked Private Manning and hustled him out the front of the courtroom, as some half dozen supporters in the back of the courtroom stood and shouted words of encouragement at him.
“We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley,” one shouted. Another said “You are a hero.” After Private Manning left the room, another supporter yelled, “We love you.”
The documents that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks also exposed the abuse of detainees by Iraqi officers under the watch of American forces and showed that civilian deaths during the Iraq war were most likely significantly higher than official estimates.
“It’s outrageous,” one supporter who had been in the courtroom, Laura Watkins, 63, of Alexandria, Va., said of the sentence. “What I’ve seen is a travesty of justice.”
The judge’s decision to impose a 35-year sentence roughly split the difference between what the prosecution had requested — 60 years — and the 20 years that Private Manning had exposed himself to when he pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges he was facing before the trial began. Under the military system, convicts are eligible for parole after serving a third of their sentences, and Private Manning is receiving 1,294 days credit — a little more than three years — for time already in custody and for a 112-day period in which the judge ruled he was mistreated during pretrial confinement.
There have been only a handful of previous convictions in cases involving leak accusations, resulting in sentences more in the range of probation to a few years in prison. Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, said Colonel Lind’s sentence reflected how much Private Manning’s case — involving leaks of entire archives, not singular documents or pieces of information — differed from what had come before it.
“This is by far the longest sentence in a leak case,” Mr. Aftergood said. “It reflects the gravity of the case and the government’s perception of the damage that was done. Among other things, it is also the most voluminous leak ever, and also the broadest in scope including diplomatic, military and other records. So it was a qualitatively new kind of leak, and the government responded aggressively.”
Colonel Lind could have sentenced Private Manning, 25, to up to 90 years. There was no minimum sentence.
Though Private Manning had pleaded guilty to a lesser version of the charges against him even before the trial, prosecutors pressed forward with a trial on more serious charges.
Colonel Lind found him guilty last month of most of the charges against him, including six counts of violating the Espionage Act, five counts of stealing government property and one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which had never before been filed in a leak case. Conviction on that charge could have resulted in a life sentence.