FORT MEADE, Md. — A military judge sentenced Private First Class Bradley Manning on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, a leak that lifted the veil on US military and diplomatic activities around the world.
The sentence is the longest handed down in a case involving a leak of US government information for the purpose of having the information reported to the public. Manning, 25, will be eligible for parole in about seven years, his lawyer said.
In a two-minute hearing Wednesday morning, the judge, Army Colonel Denise R. Lind, also said Manning would be dishonorably discharged and reduced in rank from private first class to private, the lowest rank in the military. She said he would forfeit his pay, but she did not impose a fine.
Before the sentencing, Manning sat, leaning forward, with his hands folded, whispering to his lawyer, David Coombs. His aunt and a cousin sat behind him. When Lind read the sentence, Manning stood, showing no expression.
The materials that Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during a US helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists. He also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables; dossiers of detainees being imprisoned without trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Immediately after the judge left, military guards flanked Manning and hustled him out of the courtroom as a half-dozen supporters shouted words of encouragement at him.
“We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley,” one shouted. Another said, “You are a hero.” After Manning left the room, another supporter yelled, “We love you.”
Several hours after the sentencing, Coombs told reporters that he would apply for a presidential pardon for Manning next week. At the White House, Josh Earnest, a spokesman, responded that Manning’s application would be considered “like any other application.”
Coombs said that he wept after hearing Manning’s sentence and recounted how Manning comforted him as they left the courtroom.
“He looks at me, and he says, ‘It’s OK,’ ” Coombs said. “He is a resilient young man. If nothing else, he is resilient.”
Manning downloaded the materials from a classified computer network to which he had access as a low-level Army intelligence analyst while deployed in Iraq in 2010. The documents he gave to WikiLeaks set off a scramble inside the government as officials sought to minimize any harm, including protecting foreign nationals identified in some documents as having helped US diplomats or the military. No evidence has emerged that anyone was killed because of the leaks.
Among other things, the files also exposed the abuse of detainees by Iraqi officers under the watch of US forces and showed that civilian deaths during the Iraq War were most likely significantly higher than official estimates.
“It’s outrageous,” one supporter who had been in the courtroom, Laura Watkins, 63, of Alexandria, Va., said of the sentence. “What I’ve seen is a travesty of justice.”
Under the military system, convicts are eligible for parole after serving a third of their sentences, and Manning is receiving 1,294 days’ credit for time already in custody and for a 112-day period in which the judge ruled he was mistreated during pretrial confinement. He is expected to serve his time at the army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, said Manning’s 35-year sentence reflected how much his case differed from what had come before it.
“This is by far the longest sentence in a leak case,” he said. “It reflects the gravity of the case and the government’s perception of the damage that was done. Among other things, it is also the most voluminous leak ever, and also the broadest in scope including diplomatic, military and other records. So it was a qualitatively new kind of leak, and the government responded aggressively.”
Lind could have sentenced Manning to up to 90 years. She found him guilty last month of most of the charges against him, including six counts of violating the Espionage Act, but acquitted him of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which had never before been filed in a leak case.
Manning’s sentence must be reviewed by the so-called convening authority, a general who oversees the Military District of Washington and has the power to reduce the term but not add to it. The case will then automatically come before the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.