FORT MEADE, Md. — Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison for giving hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks in one of the biggest leak cases in the U.S. since the Pentagon Papers a generation ago.
Flanked by his lawyers, Manning, 25, stood at attention in his dress uniform and showed no reaction as military judge Col. Denise Lind announced the punishment without explanation during a brief hearing.
Among the spectators, there was a gasp, and one woman buried her face in her hands. Guards hurried Manning out of the courtroom as about a half-dozen supporters shouted from the back: “We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley!” and “You’re our hero!”
With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has been held, Manning could be out in about 6 ½ years, according to his defense attorney David Coombs.
Coombs told a press conference at a nearby hotel that early next week he’ll file, through the Army, a request that the president pardon the soldier “or at the very least commute” the sentence to time already served.
“The time to end Brad’s suffering is now,” Coombs said. “The time for our president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now.”
The former intelligence analyst was found guilty last month of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, as part of the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on media leaks.
He was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which carried a potential life in prison without parole.
Manning could have gotten 90 years behind bars. Prosecutors asked for at least 60 as a warning to other soldiers, while Manning’s lawyer suggested he get no more than 25, because some of the documents he leaked will be declassified by then.
He will have to serve at least one-third of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. He was also demoted to private and dishonorably discharged.
There was no immediate word from Manning’s mother in Wales, who was reported to be in poor health, but the soldier’s uncle, who is also Welsh, deplored the sentence.
“I hope it will be reduced,” Kevin Fox told BBC television. “To be honest, he shouldn’t have been given any time at all. In my eyes, he is a hero.”
Prosecutors had no immediate comment, while the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and other activists decried the punishment.
“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,” said Ben Wizner, head of the ACLU’s speech and technology project.
In a statement, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has taken refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, decried Manning’s trial and conviction as “an affront to basic concepts of Western justice.”
But he called the sentence a “significant strategic victory” because Manning could be out in less than nine years.