The judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, announced the sentence in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Md.
Prosecutors urged the judge to sentence Manning to 60 years as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to leak secret documents.
“He betrayed the United States, and for that betrayal, he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement,” Capt. Joe Morrow had said during the sentencing hearing.
Manning’s defense had urged the military to sentence Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, to no more than 25 years in prison.
Manning leaked secret documents, which included battlefield reports and State Department cables, to WikiLeaks, which posted them on the Internet.
The U.S. government said his actions jeopardized U.S. interests and exposed informants and sources to danger. Manning’s defense painted him as a misguided idealist who opposed the war in Iraq.
“He had pure intentions at the time that he committed his offenses,” defense attorney David Coombs said during the sentencing hearing. “At that time, Pfc. Manning really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.”
In spite of WikiLeaks contending that this sentence is a kind of victory considering, Manning still received the longest sentence ever given for his crimes.
Manning may be able to seek parole after serving one third of his sentence, and has already spent three years in jail since he was first identified as the source of the WikiLeaks releases. He was also credited with serving 112 days of his sentence after Judge Lind ruled that he was improperly treated during his detainment at a facility in Quantico, Virginia. That mistreatment included being kept in solitary confinement, forced to sleep naked nightly. Thanks to those possible shortenings of his prison term, WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed called Wednesday’s outcome a “significant strategic victory,” pointing out that he may be eligible for release in less than 9 years.
Even so, Manning’s sentence is far longer than any other Espionage Act prison term for releasing information to the media in U.S. history. “I don’t think there’s ever been a sentence remotely like this for a leak to the press,” says Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. “This is the longest sentence by far.”
As for what effect this case will have on the future of members of the military revealing information to the press or organizations like WikiLeaks, only time will tell. It is also likely that the debate over whether Manning himself was actually a traitor, or a whistle-blower will continue, perhaps for years to come. And another issue that will need to be addressed is how the military and intelligence agencies can make the information they manage more secure. While prosecutors in this case were hoping for the court to make an example of Manning, the fact remains that the military needs to re-assess the protocols it uses to protect information, from the manner in which they perform background checks of personnel, to work assignment and job descriptions. Manning was a very low-ranking member of the military. Whether or not people on that level should be left with the ability to take information from military servers in the first place needs to be addressed.