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WikiLeaks case: Bradley Manning gets 35 years for leaking classified files (+video)

The 35-year sentence given Pfc. Bradley Manning – he could be out in 10 years – for the largest leak of classified information in US history reflects the complexity of the case, including harm to national security and how the Army dealt with his problems.

By Staff writer / August 21, 2013

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, before a sentencing hearing in his court martial. The military judge overseeing Pfc. Manning's trial sentenced him to 35 years in prison for giving US secrets to WikiLeaks.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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The prison sentence given Army Pfc. Bradley Manning for the largest leak of classified information in US history – 35 years – is more than his defense team had recommended (25 years) but far less than the 60 years prosecutors had asked for or the 90 years he might have received given the seriousness of his crimes.

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It reflects the complexity of the case, regarding on the one hand the extent to which Manning, who provided some 750,000 classified items to the controversial whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, actually harmed US national security and diplomatic interests, and on the other, the US military’s failure to deal with the young soldier’s mental and emotional problems, which several uniformed supervisors recognized but failed to address.

Still, the punishment announced Wednesday morning by military judge Col. Denise Lind for the 25-year-old intelligence analyst is serious.

He will be dishonorably discharged, reduced in rank to private, and be made to forfeit all military pay and benefits. With credit for some three-and-a-half years already in custody (including 112 days of what Col. Lind found to be mistreatment in the military brig at Quantico. Va.) Manning could be eligible for release in about 10 years.

Manning was convicted of 20 of the 22 charges against him, including six violations of the Espionage Act, computer fraud, and five counts of theft. Prosecutors had sought conviction on aiding the enemy, but Lind ruled that there had not been enough evidence that Manning intended to do that in releasing battlefield reports known as war logs, diplomatic cables, and a video showing civilian men (including two Reuters news agency journalists) being killed in a US helicopter attack in Iraq.

But in her “special findings” related to Manning’s conviction, Lind also wrote: “At the time of the charged offense, Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were enemies of the United States. Pfc. Manning knew that Al Qaeda was an enemy of the United States.”

Apparently mitigating what could have been a harsher sentence was testimony during the trial from officers and senior enlisted personnel who had worked with Manning, witnessing his sometimes strange and violent behavior that in retrospect should have prevented his access to classified information. Army psychiatrists told of Manning’s “sexual identity disorder,” observed at a time when official US policy was “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Fifteen individuals, including commissioned and noncommissioned officers, have been disciplined for failures related to Manning’s actions. The Army major who commanded the intelligence wing of Manning's brigade combat team was formally reprimanded, the company commander was replaced, and Manning’s immediate supervisor was reduced in rank – likely career-ending punishments.

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