FORT MEADE, Md. — Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of secret government documents, was sentenced by a military judge Wednesday to 35 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Because of credit for time served and military parole rules, Manning could be out of prison in as little as seven years, his lawyer said. The lawyer also said that he would seek a presidential pardon, casting the punishment as a disturbing example of the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle-blowers.
“This does send a message, and it’s a chilling one,” the lawyer, David Coombs, told reporters.
The sentence was imposed in a courtroom here by Army Col. Denise Lind, who presided over Manning’s court-martial. She also ordered that Manning be given a reduction in rank, and that he forfeit all military pay and benefits.
Manning, 25, a former Army intelligence analyst, has said he was disillusioned by an American foreign policy bent on “killing and capturing people” when he released the documents, including battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks in 2010.
He was convicted in July of 20 specifications, the equivalent of criminal counts in a civilian court, including seven that dealt with espionage and others that dealt with theft. Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which could have landed him in prison for life.
Manning had no visible reaction to the judge’s announcement of the sentence, and there were no audible outbursts by the 45 members of the public inside the court. After the judge left the courtroom, guards quickly ushered Manning out of the courtroom as a handful of supporters began yelling.
They yelled, “You’re our hero!” and “We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley!”
In Wales, Susan Manning, Bradley Manning’s mother, cried out and ran from the room when she heard the sentence, according to NBC News correspondent Keir Simmons, who was with the family.
An uncle, Kevin Fox, called him a hero.
“It was less than I thought — that’s one thing, anyway. Then there’s the appeal coming up. It still hurts. It’s a long time.”
His case will go for an automatic appeal in the next six months.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has called Manning the greatest journalistic source in history, and who has said Manning uncovered evidence of war crimes in Iraq, cast the sentence as a tactical victory. Manning could have been given 90 years.
The court-martial played out in part while the country debated the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former federal contractor who revealed details of massive National Security Agency surveillance programs.
“Mr. Manning’s treatment has been intended to send a signal to people of conscience in the U.S. government who might seek to bring wrongdoing to light,” Assange said in a statement. “This strategy has spectacularly backfired, as recent months have proven. Instead, the Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle. As a result, there will be a thousand more Bradley Mannings.”
Coombs, the defense lawyer, said he would prepare paperwork to apply for a presidential pardon. Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said Manning’s appeal would be considered “like any other application” and added: “I’m not going to get ahead of that process.”
The State Department said it respected the judge’s decision.
“We have made clear that leaking or divulging classified information is a serious matter,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the department.
In closing arguments in the sentencing phase of the court-martial, military prosecutors had argued that Manning should get 60 years in prison, citing the value of deterring similar leaks in the future.
“He betrayed the United States,” said Capt. Joe Morrow, a military prosecutor.
Manning’s lawyers had argued that the judge should not “rob him of his youth,” and that, while he might have been geeky and naïve, he was caring and compassionate and capable of redemption.
Military prosecutors said Manning was not a whistle-blower but a traitor. They said Manning knew that enemies of the United States use WikiLeaks as a resource, and they said some of the documents he released wound up in the hands of al Qaeda.
Manning has been jailed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since April 2011 and was at the military prison in Quantico, Va., for nine months before that.
He will get credit for 1,294 days already served, or roughly three and a half years. The credit includes 112 days that Lind granted him for mistreatment during his detention at the military brig at Quantico.
After the verdict, Manning was facing as much as 136 years in prison, but Lind ruled Aug. 6 that several specifications were redundant for purposes of sentencing, reducing his maximum sentence to 90 years.
Manning pleaded guilty in February to 10 lesser specifications, but prosecutors pressed on with the more serious charges.
Earlier this month, Manning apologized in court for his actions and said he was sorry for hurting the United States.
“When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people. The last few years have been a learning experience,” he said.
Army medical officials who treated him in Iraq also testified that he had a troubled childhood, struggled mightily with gender confusion, and was seen during basic training for “tantrum fits of rage” that grew worse with stress.
Among Manning’s other defenders is Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked what become known as the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. Those papers showed that the government systematically misled the public about U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Jim Miklaszewski reported from the Pentagon, and Erin McClam reported from New York.
First published August 21 2013, 5:36 PM