The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Military Justice

This has me conflicted:
A military judge sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning on Wednesday to 35 years in prison for providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, a gigantic leak that lifted the veil on American military and diplomatic activities around the world.The sentence is the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information for the purpose of having the information reported to the public. Private Manning, 25, will be eligible for parole in about seven years, his lawyer said.

In a two-minute hearing on Wednesday morning, the judge, Col. Denise R. Lind of the Army, also said that Private Manning would be dishonorably discharged and reduced in rank from private first class to private, the lowest rank in the military. She said he would forfeit his pay, but she did not impose a fine.


The materials that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks included a video taken during an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which civilians were killed, including two journalists. He also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables, dossiers of detainees being imprisoned without trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and hundreds of thousands of incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From Soonergrunt at Balloon Juice:
I think that once all the factors are taken in, he’ll serve somewhere around 12 to 15 years total, including the 1310 days (+/-) of pretrial confinement credit he is due. Which, given what I know (or think I know) about the case, seems to me to be fair.
I anticipate that he’ll get a sentence reduction from the Army Clemency and Parole Board, and possibly something by the Convening Authority before he orders the sentence executed. I base these assumptions on the statements of knowledgeable people I trust. Defense painted a compelling picture of a troubled young man who made a series of bad decisions, and while I happen to agree with much of that, it’s not an excuse for his behavior, and there must be consequences. If he had driven drunk and killed somebody, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Honestly I hope that whatever help or treatment he needs will be given to him, and that he can find a way to live with himself in the world
That's about the size of it for me--not the opinion on the length of the sentence; not my field, where Soonergrunt has demonstrated that he knows his stuff in his coverage--I believe that a stiff sentence was warranted, but not one that would obliterate Manning's chance to build a life in toto.

Now, granted, I'm an old defender--Legal Aid Society Criminal Appeals Bureau--but while I think that Manning's violation of the flaw, and of the confidence of a military he voluntarily joined warrant the sentence he received (and indeed could have been far more severely treated), I'm not comfortable with this case, for a couple reasons. First, the fact is whistleblowers raise questions of governmental accountability and free speech, and while Manning is a very imperfect example of one, some of his disclosures and his motivation, seem to fit.

Second, the fact that Manning was kept on active duty despite serious problems of fitness to serve, prior to the leaking. Allowing a very troubled young soldier to continue to have access to classified information when that soldier is flying psychological distress flags and providing no support? a serious mitigating factor, to my mind.

Law ran its course. Justice...well, we'll see. The jury is still out on that one...

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