US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for providing secret files to WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of classified data in US history. Taimur Khan reports
WikiLeaks dubs Manning's 35-year sentence a 'strategic victory'
The 25-year-old United States army private faced up to 90 years in prison after the judge, army Col Denise R Lind, found him guilty last month of six counts of espionage, among other crimes. The prosecution in the three-month court martial was unable to prove the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which carried a life sentence.
Manning showed no reaction as Col Lind quickly read the sentence, according to courtroom reports. As he was led out afterwards by guards, supporters in the public gallery shouted: "We'll keep fighting for you, Bradley", and "You're our hero".
Manning must serve at least a third of the 35 years, and he has been credited with the three years he remained in prison after his arrest as well as 112 extra days for harsh treatment while in jail. He will become eligible for parole within 10 years.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called the sentence a "significant strategic victory" considering that Manning could be free within a decade. But he said "the only just outcome" is Manning's unconditional release.
The case around the leaks, which were the largest in US history, became a lightning rod for the debate around government secrecy, with Manning considered by supporters to be a whistleblower while others called him a traitor.
Among the more than 700,000 documents Manning gave to WikiLeaks in 2010 were battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, including a video taken from a US attack helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 that showed the pilots attacking and killing civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and reports that showed official US estimates of civilians deaths were far lower than what military officials believed.
Hundreds of thousands of classified US state department diplomatic cables that Manning had access to during his time in Iraq as an army intelligence analyst were also leaked. They provided a rare look into Washington's behind-the-scene dealings with both allies and adversaries abroad.
Manning's defence lawyer argued during the court martial that the soldier leaked the documents because he believed the public should know about troubling aspects of the Iraq war, and to spark a national debate.
During the sentencing hearings last week, Manning apologised for his actions, saying: "I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people."
Military prosecutors said that the leaks endangered the lives of intelligence sources, but they did not present any evidence that anyone had been physically harmed as a result. Documents from the WikiLeaks release were found on computers taken from Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.
Supporters in the US and around the world have lauded Manning as a moral whistleblower who exposed US misdeeds, and a rally was planned to be held outside the White House last night.
"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," said Ben Wizner, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union.