Prosecution seeks 60-year sentence against PFC Bradley Manning

Court room illustration courtesy of Deb Vanpoolen.

FORT MEADE, Maryland — The prosecution on Monday asked a military judge to impose a 60-year sentence on PFC Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified records to WikiLeaks. 

Convicted of 20 charges – including the Espionage Act, Manning faces a maximum sentence of 90 years in prison. The government is seeking a minimum 60-year prison sentence as well as a reduction in rank (from Private First Class to Private E-1), forfeiture of all pay, $100,000 fine, and dishonorable discharge.

“The United States does not make this request lightly. PFC Manning is young and he pled guilty to some lesser included offenses. But considering those factors and the defense case extenuation of mitigation, PFC Manning’s actions, PFC Manning’s intent within the course of his deployment to Iraq, his repeated abuse of his access to SIPRNET while on duty, all those factors are egregious enough to warrant 60 years,” said Capt. Joe Morrow, one of the prosecution attorneys. “He’s been convicted of serious crimes. He betrayed the United States, and for that betrayal he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement.”

Some of the records leaked by Manning include the Apache “collateral murder” video, the “significant activities” (SIGACT) reports filed by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables, and Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs.

“[Manning] created a grave risk of harm to national security due to the volume of information he disclosed. He disrupted ongoing military and diplomatic mission, and endangered the well-being of innocent civilians and soldiers,” said Morrow.

Read more: PFC Bradley Manning apologizes for “unintended consequences” of leaks

Manning took the stand last Wednesday to apologize for his actions. In an unsworn statement, Manning told Judge Denise Lind: “I’m sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”

Civilian defense attorney David Coombs said the government’s argument clearly showed that it is interested in only seeking “punishment” and not an appropriate sentence for Manning.

“When you argue for 60 years, when you argue for that based upon the facts of this case, it’s clear they’re only interested in punishment,” said Coombs. “The [government’s] argument does not take into account the individual circumstances of PFC Manning or his offenses.” He pointed out that “60 years is almost three times the length of PFC Manning’s life.”

Coombs argued that the court should consider Manning’s genuine belief that the information he released “could make a difference” and that the “information couldn’t be used to harm the United States at the time.”

Manning’s gender dysphoria & troubled family life

Coombs also urged Lind to take into account Manning’s struggles with personal issues – namely his gender dsyphoria – which were compounded by what the defense portrayed as a “hostile” social environment that left Manning isolated, with “no one to turn to for help”.

“It’s clear he was dealing with a difficult issue and we offered that difficult issue to explain the context as to what happened – not to excuse it, not to minimize it, but to explain what this young man was going through at the time,” said Coombs.

Morrow dismissed the defense’s evidence on Manning’s personal issues as irrelevant. He asked Lind to “divorce” Manning’s personal issues from her decision on sentencing.

“The United States is not disputing that PFC Manning may have been struggling with his gender identity. The government’s only question is what that matters. What does that have to do with PFC Manning’s crimes, his intent, his intentional violation of the law on repeated occasions?” said Morrow.

Morrow pointed out that there are other soldiers who joined the Army who have suffered abuse, who grew up with alcoholic parents, who have similar stories as Bradley Manning, and who joined military for GI benefits and for a better life but did not choose to release hundreds of thousands of classified government records.

“Where are the other PFC Manning?” Morrow asked, contending Manning’s troubled background should not be an excuse for his actions.

“Sometimes soldiers can be disillusioned by war and sometimes soldiers become disillusioned by garrison rules. For every soldier PFC Manning didn’t get along with, there were thousands of fellow soldiers building schools, protecting civilians from sectarian violence, contributing to humanitarian aid missions, and somewhere along the way, PFC Manning forgot about that,” said Morrow. “It wasn’t the military’s fault. It wasn’t the command’s fault. It wasn’t because he saw something horrible. It was because he had an agenda – that was clear from the SIPRNET searches for information related to WikiLeaks in late November 2009.”

Prosecution: 60-year sentence will deter other leakers

Morrow told Lind that imposing a 60-year sentence would deter others from following in Manning’s footsteps and leak large volumes of classified information.

“There is value in deterrence…This court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information. National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously…Think about the volume of information in this case – more than 700,000 records….Think about the initiatives and work that were brought to a halt by what he did. Think about the military and diplomatic relationships that were severed. Think about the impact on the mission. If you violate the trust of your superiors, if your actions [put] soldiers you serve with at risk, if you act on your narrow self-interest, if you disclose information to our adversaries, if you betray your country, you did not deserve the mercy of a court of law,” said Morrow. “PFC Manning took an oath. He knew what he was doing. The Army didn’t abandon PFC Manning; PFC Manning abandoned the Army. The Army didn’t betray PFC Manning; PFC Manning betrayed the Army.”

Defense seeks “appropriate sentence”, calls Manning a “good candidate for rehabilitation”

Citing Manning’s decision to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses without the benefit of a deal, Coombs said that his client has accepted responsibility for his actions.

“He took the very first towards what we could say is rehabilitation: he accepted responsibility,” said Coombs. Noting Manning’s compassion, good intentions, intelligence, and resilience, Coombs emphasized that Manning is a man “capable of being redeemed.”

Coombs asked Lind to hand down an “appropriate sentence”, which he defined as one that wouldn’t “rob” Manning of his youth and one that would allow him to “have a life.”

Although Coombs did not specify how many years in confinement would considered “appropriate”, he did point out that much of the classified records released by Manning would be de-classified in 25 years. Furthermore, Coombs called the prosecution’s claims of ongoing impacts resulting from Manning’s leaks as “speculative at best.”

“When you look at the reality of the situation here – again, not to minimize the risk but the reality of our situation as we stand here today – we are out of Iraq, we are on our way out of Afghanistan; Guantanamo, if the President has his way, will be closed; diplomacy, we know, continues,” said Coombs. “Countries will still deal with us, and that has happened in this case. Many countries forgot about WikiLeaks. They moved on.”

Coombs concluded: “The appropriate sentence in this case would be a sentence that takes into account all facts and circumstances…that gives PFC Manning an opportunity to be restored to a productive place in society. It doesn’t rob him of his youth. It gives him the opportunity, perhaps, to live the life he wants, in the way that he would like, perhaps find love, maybe get married, maybe have children, to watch his children grow, and perhaps have relationship with his children’s children. That would be an appropriate sentence.”

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3 Comments on “Prosecution seeks 60-year sentence against PFC Bradley Manning

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