Bradley Manning’s sentence of 35 years for disclosure of damaging classified U.S. government information is not a punishment that fits his crime. For one thing, it is far greater than the punishment meted out to any other leaker in recent history. For another, the military judge found Manning innocent of the most serious charge against him, “aiding the enemy”. Finally, many of the documents Manning disclosed to WikiLeaks, which has been curiously silent on his sentencing, would have automatically been declassified in 25 years—why should his sentence exceed that time frame?
Bradley Manning photo: the Guardian
Set aside the extenuating circumstances—we know that Manning was emotionally disturbed and wrestling with gender/identity issues (the Army knew as well, but did nothing about it). Even given his erratic behavior and state of mind, most rational people who have followed his case conclude that Manning’s motivations were good; that he really felt the American people should be aware of some of the things the government had kept secret (the murder of civilians and journalists, for example). Manning displayed none of the discrimination and finesse of Edward Snowden, who selectively culled damning information of illegal U.S. spying on its own citizens, selectively released it, and managed (so far) to elude the sort of clumsy, disproportionate punishment Manning has received.
The simple fact is, the American people DID deserve to know about the secrets Manning uncovered, just as they deserved to learn what the N.S.A. has been up to, courtesy of Edward Snowden. Both men arguably acted in the best interests of their country. Neither deserves prison time.
It’s said that Manning plans to ask President Obama for a pardon next week. That is very unlikely to happen. But even if Obama does not pardon Manning, history will.