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Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years for passing documents to WikiLeaks

Civil liberties groups say harsh penalty signals crackdown on leakers and journalists

Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. Credit: wikipedia.org

Bradley Manning, convicted in July for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, received a 35-year prison term three years after being arrested while stationed in Iraq, The Guardian reports.

While prosecutors had asked the judge for a 60-year jail term, Manning's supporters, along with civil liberties groups, have condemned the sentence as harsh and unprecedented, noting that it is longer than any previous punishment given to American leakers, the report says.

In his closing arguments, Captain Joe Morrow called for a long prison sentence as a means of deterring other leakers who might follow Manning’s lead.

Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, urged the court to consider a sentence no longer than 25 years so that his client could build a productive life after release.

Liza Goitein, of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, called Manning’s actual sentence “dramatically longer than the longest sentence ever served for disclosing classified information to the media, which was two years,” The Guardian notes.

Ben Wizner, of the American Civil Liberties Union, added, "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.”

He continued, “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."

A critical aspect of the case centred on representations of Manning’s queer sexual and gender identifications.

Writing for Daily Xtra, Jackson Davidow, who attended court sessions, noted that both the prosecution and defence teams focused on how Manning’s “deviant queerness was responsible for their instable mental health, which allegedly led to the document leakage.”

Davidow added, “In an age where non-normative gender identity is no longer considered a disorder, where DADT has been razed, and even certain American mainstream transgender groups are lobbying for the right to serve their country alongside their cisgender counterparts, it is deeply concerning that Manning’s sexual and gender identification has been linked to negative notions of pathological mental instability, incompetence and malevolence.”

Clinical psychologist Captain Michael Worsley, who treated Manning between December 2009 and May 2010, told the military court that “being in the military and having gender identity issues does not exactly go hand in hand," adding that "it further serves to isolate, to create this issue with, kind of, defining who you are as a person."

He continued, "At that time, the military was not exactly friendly toward the gay community, or anybody that held a view as such. I don't know that it is friendly now, either, but it seems to be getting toward that point."

“There was [no support] available other than somebody like me," Worsley noted.

Manning, who was convicted of 20 counts — six under the Espionage Act — had apologized for hurting the United States. Manning was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which could have translated into life in prison without parole, Gay Star News says.

The BBC reports that Manning will get credit against his sentence, including time served and 112 days to compensate for the harsh conditions he experienced during initial confinement.

The report notes that the verdict and sentence face an automatic review by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.