WASHINGTON: US soldier Bradley Manning was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years of imprisonment for passing on sensitive official documents to a whistleblowers’ site, WikiLeaks.
The sentence is the longest handed down in a case involving the leak of US government documents. But his lawyer said Mr Manning, 25, will be eligible for parole in seven years despite the harsh sentence.
Earlier, a military court at Fort Meade, near Washington, found Mr Manning guilty of giving more than 700,000 secret US files to WikiLeaks.
On Wednesday, he was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act for stealing and releasing the documents, including State Department diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks.
The US media reported that Mr Manning would be sent to Fort Leavenworth, which houses a US military prison for hardened criminals.
The prosecutors had sought 60 years for the violator while defence lawyers had suggested 25 years. The court settled for 35 years of hard labour.
Defence attorney David Coombs, speaking to reporters after the sentence, said in “any sentence of more than 30 years, the individual will be eligible for parole after 10.” With credit for time served, parole could come in seven years, he said.
Earlier in the case, US President Barack Obama condemned Mr Manning’s act, saying: “We are a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make decisions about how the law operates. He [Manning] broke the law.”
Mr Coombs said statements by President Obama were not grounds for an appeal, but, “I do think those statements had an impact.”
The defence also objected to Mr Manning’s dishonourable discharge, insisting that “Bradley Manning is a man of honour.”
Army Col Denise Lind, the military judge in the Fort Meade, also ordered that all pay and benefits that Mr Manning was entitled to should be forfeited.
In the courtroom, Mr Manning exhibited no visible reaction to the sentence and guards quickly moved him from the courtroom as his supporters began yelling: “You’re our hero” and “We’ll keep fighting for you, Bradley!”
While describing the sentence as unusually harsh, the defence lawyer said the leaks, however large, had not been proved to be a long-term threat to US security.
The judge, however, acquitted him of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which could have earned him a life sentence.
The defence is expected to appeal Mr Manning’s sentence to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, which reviews certain court-martial convictions.
An appeal after that would go to the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, composed of five civilian judges appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
On Feb 28, Mr Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges for being WikiLeaks’ source for the material, which included videos of a 2007 Baghdad air strike and a 2009 air strike in Afghanistan in which civilians were killed. The leaked information also included 250,000 US diplomatic cables and 500,000 army reports that came to be known as the Iraq War logs and Afghan War logs.
The disclosures were the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public — much of it published by WikiLeaks or its media partners from April to November 2010.