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August 21, 2013

Bradley Manning gets 35 years from military judge for espionage convictions

As reported in this breaking news update from USA Today, "Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of espionage and other charges in connection with a massive leak of classified material." Here is more:

The judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, announced the sentence in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Md. He also received a dishonorable discharge, will forfeit his pay and benefits and was reduced in rank.

Manning faced a maximum of 90 years in prison after his conviction last month on charges of espionage, theft and fraud. Manning was convicted of the largest leak of classified material in U.S. history and was at the center of a growing debate over government secrecy.

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....

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."

Manning's defense attempted to "play up the human aspect" of Manning by highlighting mental health issues, said Phil Cave, a former military lawyer now in private practice. Defense witnesses testified about Manning's "gender-identity disorder," which contributed to the mental stress he was under....

Under military law, the sentence will be automatically appealed. He would probably be eligible for parole after he served one-third or 10 years of his sentence, whichever is longer.

I have blogged very little about this high-profile sentencing case in large part because I am very ignorant about US military sentencing law and procedure. For example, I did not realize that parole remained available for lengthy military sentences (given that federal civilian law eliminated parole from the sentencing system three decades ago), nor am I conversant on what formal rules or guidelines may have impacted the seemingly broad sentencing discretion of Army Col. Denise Lind or could still play a role in the automatic appeal provided by military law.

Both due to my basic ignorance and due to the high-profile nature of this case, I welcome both informed and uninformed opinions on this sentencing outcome. Do folks think 35 years in prison (with parole eligibility in less than 12 years when Manning will still be in his mid-30s) is a fair and effective sentence in this case? Why or why not?

August 21, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Permalink


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Actually, all military sentences of 30 years or longer are eligible for parole after 10 years (see regulation 3-1(e)(1)(c)). He's got about three and a half years in, so he would come before the parole board in early 2020.

From what I remember of my army days, the military appeals court's sentence review is pretty robust, much stronger than a circuit court's review under Booker and Gall.

Posted by: Jonathan Edelstein | Aug 21, 2013 11:17:31 AM

I don't think being able to be out in 10 years is outrageous though given his treatment and other factors, do find thirty-five years too much. But, realistically, especially given what he was convicted of, it sounds like a reasonable sentence under the law.

The problem really was on the prosecution side. This is the sort of person I think after a certain amount of time a commutation can be appropriate. The prosecution is as much about personal guilt as sending a message and once that is done, especially if he is not let out in ten years, a long prison sentence can be unjust. It is not quite the same, but President Harding's treatment of Debs comes to mind.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 21, 2013 11:25:33 AM

ETA: My comment is on the "uninformed" side. For those informed, what do you think his chances are of being released c. 2020 given precedent, realizing that times might change w/i the next few years in some fashion.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 21, 2013 12:06:36 PM

I'm stunned that there is so much parole discretion in military justice where it wouldn't seem to have much reason to be different that other kinds of sentencing.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 21, 2013 4:07:47 PM

Actually, the Manual for Courts-Martial doesn't provide sentencing guidelines. You can find it here: http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/MCM-2012.pdf

Military sentencing is difficult, because all they have is caps on various crimes, and then caps for the court you're in (special court martial is capped at 12 months confinement, plus caps on other punishments, general court-martial, the cap is the cap in the MCM).

The biggest complaint jury panels give is that OK, there are these big caps, but look at some of them--they aren't actually tailored to individual crimes that well. It's almost more tailored to categories of crimes. (In some situations, actually, all situations unless the accused chooses otherwise, the jurors find facts *and* sentence.) It's stunningly different from civilian sentencing. (Another area of discussion is pre trial agreements...)

I'm on the active duty side of this.

Posted by: Genevieve | Aug 21, 2013 4:34:04 PM

Texas is viewed by most of the country as tuff on crime but for most offenses parole eligibility begins at 1/4 of the sentence.

As for Manning, Obama should pardon him, either now or on his way out the door.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 21, 2013 6:19:13 PM

I had no idea there was still a system of parole under the UCMJ either. How is that handled for parolees? Do military officials supervise the parole? Does he have to live on or near a military base? I assume a formal discharge doesn't occur until the end of the sentence, so will he be subject to military command, including any military obligations, during that period?

Posted by: Allen | Aug 21, 2013 9:45:31 PM

If you use the Jonathan Pollard case as a barometer for how a sentence should be related to "damage to the security of the US" caused by disclosure, Bradley Manning is getting a slap on the wrist. Of course, using the Pollard case in such a way is unfair for too many reasons to discuss here.

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Aug 22, 2013 2:09:22 AM

The military maintains a prison as part of the federal complex in Leavenworth, Kansas. Not sure how the parole part is handled (i.e. whether there are separate military parole officers or whether that is handled by the regular federal probation officers.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 22, 2013 9:36:03 AM

Need more facts about the damage done. If an operative was killed from his revelations, he should be executed. If no damage other than embarrassment of the government has taken place, he should receive a reward.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 22, 2013 10:53:00 AM

new facts out on this case: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57599677/bradley-manning-i-want-to-live-as-a-woman-named-chelsea/

"Bradley Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible, the soldier said Thursday, a day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending classified material to WikiLeaks."

Of course, they should tell him to "get bent."

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 11:03:41 AM

If -- pursuant to a long term gender issue -- Manning is truly transgender, I'm not sure why we should tell her (sic) to "get bent." The use of hormone therapy could even theoretically be paid by Manning, so even the cost is unclear.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 22, 2013 12:00:03 PM


So wouldn't extra time serve him better: more time to find his "real" gender identity?

Ms.? Manning rebelled against and attacked the country which nurtured him,
and now implausibly wages war on the gender which God gave him.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 12:21:35 PM

Adamakis stated: "Ms.? Manning rebelled against and attacked the country which nurtured him,
and now implausibly wages war on the gender which God gave him."...

...and wants the country he attacked to pay for it.

I hope our policy continues to be to reject his request. When I worked in NY, it was the DOCS policy to not allow anything to do with gender reassignment if the procedure (hormone therapy) had not been started before entry into the system.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 12:33:05 PM

Joe stated: "If -- pursuant to a long term gender issue -- Manning is truly transgender, I'm not sure why we should tell her (sic) to "get bent." The use of hormone therapy could even theoretically be paid by Manning, so even the cost is unclear."

At the very least, we will be stuck with the tab of transportation and security detail for all hospital visits.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 12:35:00 PM

Mr. (or is it Ms.) Wonderful just happens to discover, the day after he's sentenced and can thus palm off his medical bills on the taxpayers, that he needs to switch sexes. Far out!

We used to think that a convicted criminal owed a debt to society. Well we can forget that! Society, you see, owes a debt to him! And the debt, in particular, is to give him some exotic and expensive treatment so he can be a woman!!!

The guy/girl gets convicted of espionage, is lucky not to have been convicted of aiding the enemy, tells us he's not really responsible because he had, ya know, sex problems (without any very detailed explanation of why sex problems would make a person want to help al Qaeda), and now wants to transmogrify taxpayers into his serfs, to labor in the fields of his misfit psyche.

The whole thing is parody, and Joe falls for it hook, line and sinker.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 22, 2013 4:48:14 PM

Sorry TarIsQtr 1:
There is a certain inmate -- whom I supervised this very week -- in a certain county in NY state,
who is certainly receiving public funding for female hormones.

Although he can't change the biologically fixed fact that every chromosome
in every cell of his body is XY, me thinks he has begun to grow semi/demi/sickly breasts.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 6:05:01 PM


A) This was policy in the state DOCS. I am not sure about county policies, which probably vary.

B) The state would pay too if the inmate had started hormones before entry.

C) I have not been there since 2009, so unfortunately, it could have changed.


Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Aug 22, 2013 7:18:26 PM

So what if he-who-would-be-she started it already?
Some have started meth already?
And once again we pay?
What a joke.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 22, 2013 10:05:57 PM

Just turn him loose in general Population and let the chips fall where they may...I'm sure the Bubbas of the joint will figure something out for
the young Lad/Lassie..

Posted by: MidWest Guy | Aug 23, 2013 2:25:03 PM

The news had it that they tortured Manning. They claim that he might commit suicide so they took all clothes and blankets and his pillow and made him sleep naked in a cold cell. Try it. This would get the people in charge all the way up the chain of command to the President a conviction at the Nuremberg Trials which we conducted in Germany after WWII. As Commander in Chief, Obama is guilty until proven innocent. Just like Manning. By the way, what item did he release to the world caused us a loss of property or injury to an American? I did not hear of any such thing during his sentencing phase.

Posted by: Liberty1st1st | Aug 27, 2013 8:16:21 AM

Bradley Manning should be given a ticker tape parade and a medal round his neck. Wake up America!

Posted by: Howard | Jan 29, 2014 10:51:14 PM

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