Well, that was disappointing. Military Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, sentenced 25-year-old Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison, which was more than the 25 years his defense counsel asked for but less than the 60 years urged by the prosecutor—and much less than the 90-year sentence the judge could have imposed. Manning was also dishonorably discharged. As is customary in military tribunals, Judge Lind did not explain her sentence.
Manning will receive credit for the 1,294 days he has already served and will be able to ask for parole after serving at least 10 years of his sentence. Manning can also earn up to five days “good conduct” credit per month, which would be deducted from the end of his sentence. Manning’s sentence will now be automatically reviewed by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Is 35 years, which may end up being much less, a sufficient sentence to deter other would-be leakers from engaging in conduct that is harmful to our nation? Perhaps, but it should have been longer. This sentence risks sending the wrong message to those contemplating leaking information that threatens our national security, endangers our troops, and frays relations with our allies. Hopefully, Bradley Manning will spend much more than just a decade in prison considering his misdeeds.
Manning disclosed more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, an organization well known for its hostility to the United States, knowing that they would post the information on the Internet. That disclosure provided the brutal enemy we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with crucial strategic and tactical information, such as almost half a million after-action battlefield reports. Those reports could help them counter our military operations and help them kill American troops.
Manning has now apologized for his actions, saying he is “sorry that I hurt the United States,” and, to be sure, he appears to be a troubled young man. Nonetheless, Bradley Manning is a criminal, not a hero or whistleblower as some have tried to portray him.
While he might have disagreed with U.S. policy, it was not up to him to decide that American policy implemented by the President with the support of Congress was wrong and should be stopped through the dangerous disclosure of classified information that he had sworn an oath to keep secret.
The great Roman orator Cicero once said, “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.” We will likely never know the full extent to which Manning’s disclosures have harmed our national security or resulted in the deaths of American troops and other brave people willing to place their lives on the line to help us. His disclosures will also serve to discourage others from cooperating with us in the future against our enemies.