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Bradley Manning sentence: Will other leakers be deterred?

The man who provided hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison on Wednesday. Some activists worried the sentence would discourage leakers from coming forward in the future. 

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Manning said in a statement read by his attorney that he chose to release the files out of moral concerns.

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"I started to question the morality of what we were doing," he said. "We had forgotten our humanity."

Prosecutors declined to comment after the sentence was read.

WikiLeaks' Assange applauded Manning's defense but decried the trial and verdict.

"While the defense should be proud of their tactical victory, it should be remembered that Mr. Manning's trial and conviction is an affront to basic concepts of Western justice," Assange said in a statement published at WikiLeaks.org.

Manning's attorneys portrayed their client as a troubled young man, who questioned his sexual identity and showed signs of anger management issues that included punching a fellow soldier and grabbing for a gun during a counseling session. Those actions, they argued, were signs Manning was unfit for war-zone deployment.

Heavy sentence 

"The government is looking for general deterrence of future Bradley Mannings," said Jeffrey Walker, an expert on military law and professor at St. John's University. "Thirty-five years is a pretty powerful message. I think they could have sent it with less than 35 years."

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the sentence was in line with sentences for paid espionage for the enemy.

In 2005, Defense Department employee Lawrence Franklin pleaded guilty to passing classified data on Iran to two pro-Israel lobbyists. He received a prison sentence of 12 years, which a judge later cut to 10 months in a halfway house.

Americans convicted of passing secrets to foreign governments have faced stiffer sentences. Former FBI agent Robert Hanssen was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty in 2001 to spying for Russia and the Soviet Union.

Other observers agreed the sentence would be a powerful deterrent and in future help to protect national security.

"The message will be sent in a loud and clear fashion to all those in uniform that they do not get to make decisions on what is legitimate and what is not, with regard to U.S. policy," said Steven Bucci, a foreign policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation.

The Manning court-martial highlights the difficulty of keeping secrets in the Internet age. It comes at a time when U.S. security agencies, with a large number of analysts granted access to secret files, are under great pressure to piece together disparate intelligence threads to head off attacks such as the April bombings at the Boston Marathon.

At the same time, the U.S. government is seeking the return of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who in June leaked details of secret U.S. programs to monitor the phone and Internet traffic of Americans. He has been granted temporary asylum by Russian authorities.

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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