Updated 2:40 p.m.
A military judge in Maryland today sentenced Private Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for disclosing a cache of secret documents to WikiLeaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning faced a maximum of 90 years for charges against him, including violations of the 1917 Espionage Act. He had been acquitted of the most serious charge against him—aiding the enemy—for his disclosure of more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents.
Prosecutors had asked the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, to sentence Manning to 60 years in prison, while the soldier’s defense attorney suggested any prison term shouldn’t exceed 25 years because the classification of some of the leaked documents expires in that same period, The Washington Post reported.
The length of the sentence touched off more discussion about where to draw the line between leaking and whistleblowing, as well how the gray area in the prosecution of national security leakers and whistleblowers.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, called today's sentencing "a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it's also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate."
"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," Wizner said in a statement. "A legal system that doesn't distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability."
On the other side, Berkeley School of Law professor John Yoo wrote in National Review Online that Manning should have received far more than 35 years in the brig, as close to the 90 years that were still possible.
"Bradley Manning caused one of the most harmful leaks in American history," Yoo said. "He released into the public eye the identities of foreigners helping the U.S. in war zones, the means and methods of U.S. military operations, and our sensitive diplomatic communications with other nations. Lives—American and foreign—no doubt were lost because of the leaks. If anyone can think of a more harmful blow to U.S. intelligence in our history, let’s hear it."
The Manning sentence was being watched closely because of the outstanding criminal charges against former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked information to the media about government surveillance programs.
The Guardian journalist who first reported Snowden’s leaks, Glenn Greenwald, on Twitter today said: "Manning sentenced to 35 years: gee, I wonder why Snowden doesn't trust US justice as a whistleblower."
"The US will never be able to lecture world again about the value of transparency and press freedoms without triggering a global laughing fit," Greenwald said in another tweet.
Amnesty International immediately urged President Barack Obama to commute Manning's sentence to the three years that he’s already served, which would allow his immediate release.
"Bradley Manning acted on the belief that he could spark a meaningful public debate on the costs of war, and specifically on the conduct of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International. "His revelations included reports on battlefield detentions and previously unseen footage of journalists and other civilians being killed in US helicopter attacks, information which should always have been subject to public scrutiny."
"Instead of fighting tooth and nail to lock him up for decades, the US government should turn its attention to investigating and delivering justice for the serious human rights abuses committed by its officials in the name of countering terror."
Manning's defense counsel is expected to file a petition for clemency shortly with the U.S. Department of Justice office, Amnesty said.
The judge's conviction and sentence must be reviewed by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, head the Military District of Washington D.C., who can reduce the conviction and the sentence but not increase them, the Los Angeles Times reports.