35 year sentence proves US will ‘aggressively prosecute those who expose war crimes, and diligently protect those who commit them.’
Jon Queally, staff writer Published on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 by Common Dreams
Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images )
Announcement of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s 35 year prison sentence by military Judge Col. Denise Lind on Wednesday was met with swift condemnation in the U.S. and across the globe with progressives and supporters of the army whistleblower calling the sentence a clear miscarriage of justice.
Though less than the 60 years military prosecutors had pushed for, many critics of the three and a half decade sentence say that in the context of recent war crimes that have gone unpunished—including the invasion of Iraq, the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere, extrajudicial killings, torture, rendition, and warrantless surveillance—it seems absurd to punish a young man who was motivated to expose some of the workings of these misdeeds via public disclosure.
What follows is a sampling of statements—including tweets, excerpts, etc.—cataloging the reaction from human rights groups, experts, journalists, and activists on the sentencing announcement.
Kevin Gosztola, writer/journalist for Firedoglake.com, who has covered Manning’s court-martial at Fort Meade for the past 21 months:
The sentence pulls into focus the state of the military justice system and how soldiers or officers, whose morals and principles inspire them to disclose information that reveal instances of torture or inhumane treatment and killings of civilians, will be punished to a far greater extent than those who engage in the torture or killing of civilians that is exposed.
No evidence of long-term damage or harm from the disclosures and no evidence of anyone being killed or injured as a result of the disclosures was ever presented in open court. If any significant harm or damage was done to national security or the foreign policy agenda of the United States, the government did not declassify those examples so the public could understand the government’s justification for a sentence of thirty-five years. The government denied Manning a level of openness and fairness that he should have been able to enjoy. That they hid behind secrecy when presenting evidence of alleged damage or harm indicates that over a period of three years they were unable to come up with proof to back up hyperbolic claims previously made by high-ranking US government officials.
Widney Brown, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International:
Bradley Manning acted on the belief that he could spark a meaningful public debate on the costs of war, and specifically on the conduct of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. His revelations included reports on battlefield detentions and previously unseen footage of journalists and other civilians being killed in US helicopter attacks, information which should always have been subject to public scrutiny.
Instead of ‘sending a message’ by giving him a de facto life sentence the US government should turn its attention to investigating violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the context of the ill-conceived ‘war on terror’.
Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, said:
[Manning] doesn’t deserve to spend another day in jail.
There are some that will not be deterred even by prospect of life in prison – I think that Manning was one of those. I think that Edward Snowden is another – he knows he faced the prospect of life in prison or even assassination … This is an effort to minimise truth-telling.
And public advocate Ralph Nader posted this message on his Facebook page:
One would have thought that exposing high level criminal and other abusive behavior by government would have been received with reforms and compensation for victims. Instead, the exposed perpetrators managed the torturing and prosecution of a civil disobeying patriot as a traitor. It is time to recall the words of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason.
Clemency is the next call for Bradley Manning by his legions of supporters from all political backgrounds. He has suffered enough.
Statement by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in part:
The only just outcome in Mr Manning’s case is his unconditional release, compensation for the unlawful treatment he has undergone, and a serious commitment to investigating the wrongdoing his alleged disclosures have brought to light.
Mr Manning’s treatment has been intended to send a signal to people of conscience in the US government who might seek to bring wrongdoing to light. This strategy has spectacularly backfired, as recent months have proven. Instead, the Obama administration is demonstrating that there is no place in its system for people of conscience and principle. As a result, there will be a thousand more Bradley Mannings.
Statement by the Center for Constitutional Rights:
We are outraged that a whistleblower and a patriot has been sentenced on a conviction under the Espionage Act. The government has stretched this archaic and discredited law to send an unmistakable warning to potential whistleblowers and journalists willing to publish their information. We can only hope that Manning’s courage will continue to inspire others who witness state crimes to speak up.
This show trial was a frontal assault on the First Amendment, from the way the prosecution twisted Manning’s actions to blur the distinction between whistleblowing and spying to the government’s tireless efforts to obstruct media coverage of the proceedings. It is a travesty of justice that Manning, who helped bring to light the criminality of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is being punished while the alleged perpetrators of the crimes he exposed are not even investigated. Every aspect of this case sets a dangerous precedent for future prosecutions of whistleblowers – who play an essential role in democratic government by telling us the truth about government wrongdoing – and we fear for the future of our country in the wake of this case.
We must channel our outrage and continue building political pressure for Manning’s freedom. President Obama should pardon Bradley Manning, and if he refuses, a presidential pardon must be an election issue in 2016.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project:
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. A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability. This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.
Norman Solomon; journalist, author and co-founder of RootsAction.org:
From the outset, the punishment of Bradley Manning has inverted responsibility. Instead of condemning war crimes, the entire chain of military command—from the president on down—condemned the brave action of the person who exposed them.
Manning recognized and acted on basic principles of democracy and human accountability. You can’t have meaningful ‘consent of the governed’ without informed consent. You can’t have moral responsibility without challenging official hypocrisies and atrocities.
The profound service that Bradley Manning rendered to humanity is precisely what the USA’s political and military system can’t abide. He didn’t just follow orders or turn his head at the sight of unconscionable policies of the U.S. government. Finding himself in a situation where he could shatter the numbed complacency that is the foundation of war, he cared — and he took action as a whistleblower.
From the moment of his arrest, the system set out to crush Manning. There was a method in the military madness that subjected him to solitary confinement under conditions that U.S. news media would condemn as torture if imposed by an ‘enemy’ government. The prison sentence announced today is a continuation of the U.S. government’s effort to make an example of Bradley Manning — to warn other would-be whistleblowers that they should not take moral responsibility.
Today, more than ever, ‘I am Bradley Manning’ should be a statement of aspiration. In many walks of life, we have opportunities to choose clarity over complacency; courage over inaction. The warfare state has condemned and sentenced Bradley Manning, but he will continue to inspire us every day.
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald in a series of tweets:
Obama admin: we aggressively prosecute those who expose war crimes, and diligently protect those who commit them.
The US will never be able to lecture world again about the value of transparency and press freedoms without triggering a global laughing fit
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, chief sponsor for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) and chair of the International Modern Media Institute, wrote ’35 years for exposing us to the truth’:
I am deeply disappointed that no one has been held accountable for the criminality exposed in the documents for which Manning is standing trial – except him. It shows so clearly that our justice systems are not working as intended to protect the general public and to hold accountable those responsible for unspeakable crimes.
I want to thank Bradley Manning for the service he has done for humanity with his courage and compassionate action to inform us, so that we have the means to transform and change our societies for the better. I want to thank him for shining light into the shadows. It is up to each and everyone of us to use the information he provided for the greater good. I want to thank him for making our world a little better. This is why I nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, for there are very few individuals who have ever brought about the kind of social change Manning has put in motion.
The wave of demands for greater transparency, more accountability, and democratic reform originate with Manning’s lonely act in the barracks in Iraq. He has given others – such as Edward Snowden – the courage to do the right thing for the rest of us. The heavy hand dealt Bradley Manning today is a massive blow against everything many of us hold sacred – at a time when we have been shown how fragile and weak our democracies are by the revelations of, first, Manning, and now, Snowden.
Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning Support Network tweeted:
35 years in jail for exposing war crimes. Nobel Peace Prize for committing them. #freebrad
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice:
Spies who funnel information directly to the enemy have frequently served lengthy sentences under the Espionage Act. By contrast, before the Obama administration, there were only three Espionage Act prosecutions brought for disclosing information to the media, and the longest sentence served was two years. While significantly less than the 60 years requested by prosecutors, the judge’s sentence in Manning’s case is by far the longest ever imposed for a media leak.
This sentence is precedent-setting for all the wrong reasons. Spies and traitors have always been subject to the most severe criminal penalties, so Manning’s sentence doesn’t change the legal landscape for them. On the other hand, public servants who come across improperly classified evidence of government misconduct and want to blow the whistle will now think twice.
Statement by Government Accountability Project:
It is the position of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) that this sentence, though not the 60+ year sentence that the prosecution had requested, is intended to be a message to all whistleblowers, present and future. Further, the sentence is excessive and unjust for the following reasons:
- It has never been proven that Manning’s conduct did harm to the US.
- Manning informed the public of clear wrongdoing.
- Manning suffered egregious and unlawful pretrial detention.
- No individuals have been punished as a result of Manning’s revelations despite clear atrocities.
“This was a show trial done largely in secret,” stated GAP National Security & Human Rights Counsel Kathleen McClellan. “This case is of public interest, but the public has been kept in the dark through severely limited media access. America is better than secret courts.”
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And from The New York Times Opinion Pages:
Bradley Manning’s Excessive Sentence
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: August 21, 2013
The 35-year sentence a military judge imposed on Pfc. Bradley Manning Wednesday morning was in some sense a vindication of his defense: following his conviction last month on charges of violating the Espionage Act, Private Manning faced up to 90 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to lesser versions of those crimes that exposed him to 20 years behind bars. For a defense lawyer, a sentence of one-third the potential maximum is usually not a bad outcome. But from where we sit, it is still too much, given his stated desire not to betray his country but to encourage debate on American aims and shed light on the “day to day” realities of the American war effort.
Certainly, Private Manning faced punishment.
In providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks — extensive excerpts of which were published in The New York Times and other publications — he broke the law and breached his responsibility as a military intelligence analyst to protect those files. It was by far the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and thus it is not surprising that the punishment would be the longest ever on record for leaking such information.
But 35 years is far too long a sentence by any standard. In more than two weeks of hearings, government lawyers presented vague and largely speculative claims that Private Manning’s leaks had endangered lives and “chilled” diplomatic relations. On the other hand, much of what Private Manning released was of public value, including a video of a military helicopter shooting at two vans and killing civilians, including two Reuters journalists. By comparison, First Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years for the 2008 killing of an unarmed Iraqi man who was being questioned about suspected terrorist activities. Lieutenant Behenna’s sentence has since been cut to 15 years. Private Manning has already been held for more than three years, nine months of which were in solitary confinement. It is some comfort that he has several opportunities to avoid serving out his full term — including a sentence reduction by a military appeals court; the possibility of parole, for which he will be eligible in about eight years; or a grant of clemency by a board that considers requests from service members.
Army Col. Denise R. Lind, the judge who sentenced Private Manning, also reduced his rank to the lowest in the military and dishonorably discharged him. Those are appropriate punishments. But the larger issue, which is not resolved by Private Manning’s sentencing, is the federal government’s addiction to secrecy and what it will do when faced with future leaks, an inevitability when 92 million documents are classified in a year and more than 4 million Americans have security clearance.
In their drastic attempt to put Private Manning away for most of the rest of his life, prosecutors were also trying to discourage other potential leakers, but as the continuing release of classified documents by Edward Snowden shows, even the threat of significant prison time is not a deterrent when people believe their government keeps too many secrets.
A version of this editorial appears in print on August 22, 2013, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Bradley Manning’s sentence is excessive.
Manning Sentenced to 35 Years For a Pivotal Leak of U.S. Files (August 22, 2013)