| Bradley Manning judge deliberates as experts predict ‘double-digit’ sentence!

Bradley Manning judge deliberates as experts predict ‘double-digit’ sentence ~  in Fort Meadetheguardian.com.

Manning unlikely to be given 90-year maximum, analysts say, but soldier can expect susbtantial prison term for leaking material.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning. Law professor Eugene Fidell said: ‘The minimum is zero. Other than that, it is totally down to the judge’s discretion.’ Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Bradley Manning, the US soldier responsible for the largest military leak in American history, can expect to face a substantial portion of his adult life in prison, legal experts say.

The army private, who was convicted last month of passing an enormoustrove of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, is facing a maximum possible sentence of 90 years in jail when he is sentenced this week.

Few military lawyers believe the judge presiding the 25-year-old’s court martial will administer the maximum punishment, which would amount to a life sentence.

However, experts consulted by the Guardian said Manning could expect to be jailed for at least 10 years, and possibly two or three decades.

Manning was convicted of passing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks. He was found guilty of 20 counts, several under the Espionage Act, but acquitted of the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy”.

The judge presiding over his court martial at Forte Meade military base, Colonel Denise Lind, who was due to begin deliberating on Monday, recently granted most elements of a defence motion that merged some of the 20 counts for which Manning has been found guilty, on grounds that they repeat each other.

Without it, Manning would have been facing a maximum jail term of 136 years in jail.

Predicting any sentence in a court martial is notoriously difficult. Unlike in civilian courts, where there are often federal tariffs or sentencing guidelines, nothing in the Manual for Courts-Martial – the rulebook for military trials – aids the judge in determining the appropriate punishment.

“All that exists is the maximum sentence,” said Eugene Fidell, a law professor at Yale. “And the minimum is zero. Other than that, it is totally down to the judge’s discretion.” He added that Manning was fortunate a judge would determine his jail-sentence. “A jury could do anything, they could really have thrown the book at him.”

What makes the Manning case particularly difficult to forecast is the scale and nature of his leaks, which are without precedent.

When he was stationed in Iraq in 2010, Manning passed 250,000 State Department cables and 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield logs to Wikileaks, as well as other classified material.

The transparency website published material on its website and also shared documents with a consortium of news organisations led by the Guardian.

Fidell predicted Manning would receive a “double-digit” sentence, but said anything up to 20 years was also feasible. He said he would be “quite surprised” if Manning was jailed for longer than three decades.

Lind, who is expected to decide Manning’s sentence shortly, has given no clues about which way she might be leaning.

“The judge has a tremendous amount of discretion. She could sentence anything from a nominal time to 90 years,” said Liza Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice‘s Liberty and National Security Program.

“She has not really tipped her hand, in any way, either through any of the individual rulings or the verdict,” Goitein said. However, on Friday, in a series of written findings released after the prosecution finished their sentencing arguments, Lind provided a harsh summary of Manning’s actions.

“Manning’s conduct was of a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others,” Lind told the court. “His conduct was both wanton and reckless.”

The sentencing phase of the trial, which functions like a second, mini-trial, at which both defence and prosecution make their case for the appropriate punishment, concludes Monday.

In recent weeks, the soldier’s defence team tried to show that his judgment at the time he passed information to WikiLeaks was impaired by his fragile emotional state, as he struggled with his gender identity disorder in an unforgiving military culture.

In mitigation, the defence reveal how Manning’s senior officers missed a series of “red flags” that, the argued, should have prompted senior officers to revoke the soldier’s classified security access.

The prosecution faced a series of setbacks in its bid to establish the extent of damage caused by the leaks.

A military witness conceded there was no evidence individuals had been killed by enemy forces after having been named in the releases, while Lind, in a rare victory for the defence, limited the admissibility of evidence regarding the “chilling effects” Manning’s actions had on US diplomacy.

“From what I’ve read, the sentencing hearing went as well as it could have for Bradley Manning,” Gotein said. “In the open sessions, the government really struggled to show any material harm that was admissible.”

She and other experts who have watched the case unfold said Manning’s decision last week to show remorse for his actions is likely to aid his case for a more lenient punishment.

Manning surprised some observers when he read out a statement in court last Wednesday, expressing remorse and apologising for actions that “hurt the United States“.

“While it might have broken the hearts of his followers to hear him say he regretted he did what he did, that is exactly what he needed to do in order to cut down his sentence,” Goitein said. “Depending on the judge, it can be quite important for a defendant to show some remorse, and some appreciation of the wrongfulness of his actions. It could conceivably be significant.”

But Lind will have to decide whether she believes Manning is really contrite, and not merely apologising as a pragmatic bid for a shorter sentence.

Just six months ago, in February, when Manning admitted to leaking most of the classified material, he offered more of a defence of his actions. In a statement read out to the court, Manning spoke of his shock at the “delightful bloodlust” displayed by military personnel in a video of a 2007 attack by a US helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.

At that time, he told the judge, he believed that releasing classified material to stimulate a debate about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was “the right thing to do”.

Gotein declined to offer a firm prediction for Manning’s jail term, but added: ‘The charges are so serious, and there are so many of them, that is hard for me to see him getting away with less than 20 years.”

The 20-year marker has become something of an unofficial barometer for those closely following the case. If the prosecution had accepted Manning’s partial guilty plea back in February, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Some of Manning’s supporters say privately that any sentence short than 20 years will be considered something of a victory. However, that threshold is, compared to the history of other cases brought against government leakers, extraordinary.

Daniel Ellsberg, who before Manning was perhaps the best known government whistleblower, was charged under the Espionage Act for photocopying documents about America’s involvement in Vietnam, saw the case against him collapse in 1973.

The Obama administration has overseen a much-criticised clampdown on leakers and the journalists they provide information to, although so far only a small number have been convicted, and sentences have been relatively short.

Shamai K Leibowitz, who gave secret FBI transcripts of a conversation recorded at the Israeli embassy to a blogger, was sentenced to 20 months in prison after admitting disclosing classified information.

John Kiriakou, who pleaded guilty last year to disclosing classified information about the government’s use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique, was sentenced to 30 months.

But no other leaker in US history is known to have released anything like the amount of classified information as Manning.

Jesselyn Radack, from the Government Accountability Project, which works with whistleblowers, said her personal view was that the three years Manning has already served in detention should be enough, and that he should be let free.

Radack, a former Justice Department whistleblower, was never prosecuted, despite a 10-year investigation into information she passed to Newsweek about an American who was interrogated after being captured in Afghanistan.

She said the Manning prosecution was a “show trial”, and part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to discourage officials from passing information to journalists.

She said she would be “happily stunned” if Manning was given fewer than 20 years, a sentence that would be viewed as a “victory of sorts”.

“The US government wants to send out a message,” Radack said. “You choose your conscience over not only your career, but your very freedom.”

Whatever sentence Manning receives, it will be reduced by the more than three years because of the time he has already spent in custody since his arrest in May 2010.

A further 112 days will be deducted as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated Manning for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011.

He is also entitled to an automatic appeal to the army court of criminal appeals, which could take place within about six months of his sentencing.

Still, he is probably preparing himself for the possibility that he might not leave prison before he is an old man.

The recent disclosures of top-secret documents about the National Security Agency, released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, may complicate matters.

Fidell said there is now growing pressure to send a message that dissuades future “copycat leakers”.

“Having the Snowden case happen in this way is very poor timing for private Manning,” he said. “I’m sure the judge reads newspapers. The existence of the Snowden case, I think, raises the stakes.”

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| Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges!

Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges ~  at Fort Meade, theguardian.com.

• Pfc. Manning convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations
Acquitted of most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge
• Army private faces maximum jail sentence of 130 years

Bradley Manning at Fort Meade

Bradley Manning has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bradley Manning, the source of the massive WikiLeaks trove of secret disclosures, faces a possible maximum sentence of more than 130 years in military jail after he was convicted of most charges on which he stood trial.

Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the court martial of the US soldier, delivered her verdict in curt and pointed language. “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,” she repeated over and over, as the reality of a prolonged prison sentence for Manning – on top of the three years he has already spent in detention – dawned.

The one ray of light in an otherwise bleak outcome for Manning was that he was found not guilty of the single most serious charge against him – that he knowingly “aided the enemy”, in practice al-Qaida, by disclosing information to the WikiLeaks website that in turn made it accessible to all users including enemy groups.

Lind’s decision to avoid setting a precedent by applying the swingeing “aiding the enemy” charge to an official leaker will invoke a sigh of relief from news organisations and civil liberties groups who had feared a guilty verdict would send a chill across public interest journalism.

The judge also found Manning not guilty of having leaked an encrypted copy of a video of a US air strike in the Farah province of Aghanistan in which many civilians died. Manning’s defence team had argued vociferously that he was not the source of this video, though the soldier did admit to later disclosure of an unencrypted version of the video and related documents.

Lind also accepted Manning’s version of several of the key dates in the WikiLeaks disclosures, and took some of the edge from other less serious charges. But the overriding toughness of the verdict remains: the soldier was found guilty in their entirety of 17 out of the 22 counts against him, and of an amended version of four others.

Manning was also found guilty of “wrongfully and wantonly” causing to be published on the internet intelligence belonging to the US, “having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accesible to the enemy”. That guilty ruling could still have widest ramifications for news organisations working on investigations relating to US national security.

The verdict was condemned by human rights campaigners. Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy, Widney Brown, said: “The government’s priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence.

“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.”

Ben Wizner, of the American Civil LIberties Union, said: “While we’re relieved that Mr Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

“Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Manning’s family expressed “deep thanks” to his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who has worked on the case for three years. They added: “While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.”

Once the counts are added up, the prospects for the Manning are bleak. Barring reduction of sentence for mitigation, which becomes the subject of another mini-trial dedicated to sentencing that starts tomorrow, Manning will face a substantial chunk of his adult life in military custody.

He has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010 – most recently in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas – which will be deducted from his eventual sentence.

A further 112 days will be taken off the sentence as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated him for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011. He was kept on suicide watch for long stretches despite expert opinion from military psychiatrists who deemed him to be at low risk of self-harm, and at one point was forced to strip naked at night in conditions that the UN denounced as a form of torture.

Lind has indicated that she will go straight into the sentencing phase of the trial, in which both defence and prosecution lawyers will call new witnesses. This is being seen as the critical stage of the trial for Manning’s defence: the soldier admitted months ago to being the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures, and much of the defence strategy has been focused on attempting to reduce his sentence through mitigation.

With that in mind, the soldier’s main counsel, David Coombs, is likely to present evidence during the sentencing phase that Manning was in a fragile emotional state at the time he began leaking and was struggling with issues over his sexuality. In pre-trial hearings, the defence has argued that despite his at times erratic behaviour, the accused was offered very little support or counselling from his superiors at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad.

The outcome will now be pored over by government agencies, lawyers, journalists and civil liberties groups for its implications for whistleblowing, investigative reporting and the guarding of state secrets in the digital age. By passing to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 documents, Manning became the first mass digital leaker in history, opening a whole new chapter in the age-old tug-of-war between government secrecy and the public’s right to information in a democracy.

Among those who will also be closely analysing the verdict are Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has disclosed the existence of secret government dragnets of the phone records of millions of Americans, who has indicated that the treatment of Manning was one reason for his decision to seek asylum in another country rather than face similar aggressive prosecution in America. The British government will also be dissecting the courtroom results after the Guardian disclosed that Manning is a joint British American citizen.

Another party that will be intimately engaged with the verdict is WikiLeaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. They have been the subject of a secret grand jury investigation in Virginia that has been looking into whether to prosecute them for their role in the Manning disclosures.

WikiLeaks and Assange were mentioned repeatedly during the trial by the US government which tried to prove that the anti-secrecy organisation had directly steered Manning in his leaking activities, an allegation strongly denied by the accused. Prosecutors drew heavily on still classified web conversations between Manning and an individual going by the name of “Press Association”, whom the government alleges was Assange.

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