WikiLeaks hailed the 35-year sentence handed to former US soldier Bradley Manning on Wednesday as a “strategic victory”. Manning, whose leaked cables saw the organisation shoot to international prominence, was expected to receive a heavier sentence.
WikiLeaks hailed the sentencing of former US soldier Bradley Manning on Wednesday as a "significant strategic victory".
The pro-transparency organisation founded by Julian Assange calculated in a tweet how soon Manning would be eligible for release. “Significant strategic victory in Bradley Manning case. Bradley Manning now eligible for release in less than nine years, 4.4 in one calculation," it said.
WikiLeaks shot to international prominence in 2010 when it began publishing hundreds of thousands of documents obtained by Manning, who was a junior intelligence analyst at a US base near Baghdad at the time.
Manning was convicted last month of 20 offences including six Espionage Act violations, five theft counts and computer fraud, having earlier admitted that he had leaked more than 700,000 reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and confidential US diplomatic cables.
Details from some of the diplomatic cables embarrassed senior officials on nearly every continent.
Guards hurried Manning out of the courtroom on Wednesday as supporters shouted: “We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley” and “You’re our hero”.
Supporters paint Manning as a voice of conscience who lifted a veil on what he considered the worst transgressions of US foreign policy.
“I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” he said last week, apologising for the “unexpected results” of his actions.
Disturbed by the violent reports he read as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009, Manning began downloading the files and passing them to WikiLeaks until his arrest in May 2010.
A US Army video recording of two Apache helicopters gunning down a group of Iraqis in Baghdad, an attack that killed at least 12 men and wounded two children, was an incident Manning said "burdens me emotionally" and was among his first leaks.
"They dehumanised the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as 'dead bastards' and congratulating themselves on their ability to kill in large numbers," Manning said in court.
‘A casualty of war’
Daniel Ellsberg – the military analyst who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top secret study that detailed how the government had misled the public about the Vietnam War – has called Manning a hero deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an interview after the sentencing, Ellsberg said that Manning was “one more casualty of a horrible, wrongful war that he tried to shorten”.
“I think his example will always be an inspiration of civil and moral courage to truth tellers in the future,” Ellsberg said.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for his nomination for the prestigious award.
The Bradley Manning Support Network, meanwhile, has received donations to pay his legal costs and has campaigned relentlessly on his behalf.
There was no immediate word from Manning’s mother in Wales, who was reported to be in poor health, but the soldier’s uncle, who is also Welsh, deplored the sentence.
“I hope it will be reduced,” Kevin Fox told BBC television. “To be honest, he shouldn’t have been given any time at all. In my eyes, he is a hero.”
While WikiLeaks hailed his sentence as short, experts and transparency advocates consider 35 years a strong deterrent to others who may consider exposing US government secrets.
“It’s more than 17 times the next-longest sentence ever served” for turning over secret material to the media, Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Reuters. “It is in line with sentences for paid espionage for the enemy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the sentence.
“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 Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
But the prosecution presented a far darker view of Manning, saying he set out to harm the country he had pledged to serve.
"He was not a troubled young soul, he was a determined soldier with the knowledge, ability and desire to harm the United States in its war effort," lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told the court.
Fein was unable however to prove that Manning aided the enemy, a crime punishable by life in prison.
The trial has drawn further attention to the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers. The administration has charged seven people with leaking to the news media, while only three were prosecuted in all previous presidential administrations combined.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-08-21