Bradley Manning judge deliberates as experts predict ‘double-digit’ sentence ~ Paul Lewis in Fort Meade, theguardian.com.
Manning unlikely to be given 90-year maximum, analysts say, but soldier can expect susbtantial prison term for leaking material.
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.”
- Bradley Manning’s leaks ‘wanton and reckless’, judge says (theguardian.com)
- Bradley Manning scheduled to address judge during sentencing (cnn.com)
- WikiLeaks case: Bradley Manning may learn sentence as soon as Tuesday – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- WikiLeaks: Lawyers Summing Up In Manning Sentencing Hearing (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- Bradley Manning’s maximum sentence reduced to a possible 90 years (theguardian.com)
- Manning’s defense to open sentencing case (miamiherald.com)
- WikiLeaks: Bradley Manning apologises for hurting the US (telegraph.co.uk)
- Military Judge Reduces Bradley Manning’s Maximum Possible Sentence To 90 Years (washington.cbslocal.com)
- The Bradley Manning Sentencing Dynamics (emptywheel.net)
- Bradley Manning apologizes in court (usnews.nbcnews.com)