Transcript: CCR President Michael Ratner’s comments on PFC Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence

Transcript of comments by Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney for WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, following the court martial sentencing of PFC Bradley Manning on Aug. 21, 2013. The 25-year-old former Army intelligence analyst was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing more than 700,000 classified U.S. government records to WikiLeaks. Mr. Ratner’s comments were recorded at 10:51 a.m. EST in Fort Meade, Maryland.

You know, it’s amazing in just a few words you can essentially condemn a man to prison for a good part of his adult life, and I was shocked by the severity of it.

I don’t think he should have been tried at all and that he should have been treated as a whistleblower, and that the people who he was exposing and their criminality – those should have been on trial.

But even in their own terms it seems to me a shockingly heavy sentence. The other sentences for espionage that I’ve been familiar with – even for people who sold secrets, much less done good for their country by giving them, by exposing them – have gotten shorter sentences.

So I think it’s a punitive, punishing sentence. And I think what the prosecutor asked for was a sentence that would “deter others”, and I think that was their theory underlying the sentence – sending a message “We don’t like whistleblowing in this country. We don’t like telling about thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq, the torture centers in Iraq, killings of Reuters journalists. And we’re going to try and close up every hole we can and keep our secrets secret.”

So it’s a very sad moment for all of us, I think, because here’s someone who really broke open the barriers that we were having to finding out what our government has done. And you could say that people have followed in his footsteps. I mean, Ed Snowden, for example. So he [Manning] was a really important figure for telling us what the U.S. government does, and unfortunately it’s what we’ve come to expect that they want to repress the truth-tellers…

And hopefully, we’ll be able to get this sentence reduced more and more, but in my view, he shouldn’t do a day. I don’t think there’s a fair sentence here because I don’t think he should have been tried. He also was over-charged. The idea this is espionage, which implies spying, is completely absurd – completely absurd. Those are just six charges that never should have been here at all. So he was over-charged. The trial – much of it was conducted in complete secrecy and it shouldn’t have been.

And so we’re seeing essentially a political trial for someone who I consider a political prisoner.

As I recall, he [Manning] doesn’t qualify in the military for the whistleblower statute. So he couldn’t have done that.

And people who reported these kind atrocities or criminality through the chain of commands or any other way essentially get disciplined and charged with espionage. Tom Drake is a typical of those.

Military – he [Manning] did complain – at least one of the – part of the court testimony – about the Iraqis arresting people who exercise free speech rights, and they told him to ignore it. So there was no other real alternative for him. He’s someone who saw atrocities and criminality, and he acted in his conscience and that’s a whistleblower.

And what I’m troubled by particularly is that we hear pundits and others and sometimes journalists saying, “Well, he has to be punished for what he did. He broke the military oath.” All these kinds of stuff. But I don’t hear these people calling for the prosecutions of people like Donald Rumsfeld or George Bush or [Dick] Cheney who were leading a torture program that was unprecedented in this country and it was completely illegal. And my view is until we start prosecuting those kind of people, there should be no prosecution of whistleblowers – real whistleblowers like Bradley Manning.


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2 Comments on “Transcript: CCR President Michael Ratner’s comments on PFC Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence

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