FORT MEADE, Md. – Military prosecutors in the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning asked the judge Monday to sentence him to at least 60 years in prison, arguing that his leaks of classified documents severely damaged U.S. intelligence operations and made a mockery of the nation’s diplomatic missions.
“There may be no soldier in the history of the Army who displayed such an extreme disregard,” Army Capt. Joe Morrow said of the 25-year-old former junior intelligence analyst in Iraq. “At least 60 years is justified. Pfc. Manning is young. He deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in prison.”
But Manning’s legal defense team, led by David Coombs, said the government is “only interested in punishment” rather than “the needs of the individual soldier.” He urged the judge to impose a sentence short enough to permit Manning to make parole and someday return to society.
“The defense requests a sentence that allows him to have a life,” he said.
The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, said she would begin considering the sentence Tuesday morning. The maximum term she could give Manning is 90 years, without the ability to apply for parole until he has served a third of his sentence.
In the trial, prosecutors portrayed Manning as an arm of al-Qaida by giving the group access to more than 700,000 confidential diplomatic cables, war logs and terrorist detainee assessments when he provided the cache in 2010 to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
The defense characterized him as a whistle-blower who wanted the public to see secret material that he believed proved the United States was untruthful about how it was carrying out two wars and international diplomacy.
The judge acquitted Manning of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, but convicted him on others, including six counts of violating the Espionage Act.
Morrow, in his half-hour presentation, also asked that Manning pay a fine of $100,000 to help defray the costs of assessing the damage he caused with the leaks, which had made their way to al-Qaida’s leader. “The information was found in the digital media of Osama bin Laden,” he said.
He noted that Manning filled a “most wanted list” of classified documents sought by WikiLeaks and knew exactly how to circumvent safeguards protecting secret material. “Pfc. Manning was fully aware of the weaknesses in the system, and he took full advantage of those weaknesses,” the prosecutor said.
In asking for a 60-year sentence, Morrow told the judge: “This court must send a message. National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously.”
Morrow dismissed contentions from the defense that Manning might not have leaked the material if he had received mental health counseling because he was gay and struggling with a “gender identity disorder.” Morrow said there are thousands of gay and lesbian military service members who have not betrayed their miliary oaths.
The Army does not question Manning’s inner struggles over whether to become a woman, Morrow concluded, “Our problem is with what he did.”
Coombs described a completely different Manning.
He said his client was “young, naive, had limited experience and good intentions” when he began leaking the material to spark a debate to end the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He really believed this information could make a difference,” Coombs said. “More importantly, he did not believe this information could be used to harm the United States.”
Further, Coombs charged that the Army let Manning down by not recognizing his emotional problems, getting him therapy and moving him out of the combat area southeast of Baghdad. He said Manning was “crying out for assistance,” yet his commanders did little or nothing to help him. He called it an “utter failure to take action,” implying that had Manning been helped, he never would have leaked the documents.
Coombs concluded by saying he had expected the government to ask for 40 years, not 60. He showed a slide presentation to the judge about the past four decades. There were pictures of the moon landing, the Supreme Court deciding Roe v. Wade, President Nixon and Watergate. There were pictures of cell phones, the movie “E.T.” and President Bill Clinton on his inauguration day.
The images, he told the judge, show how long 40 years is – and how much longer 60 years would be.
Manning has already served three years, Coombs said, and despite harsh jail conditions – for a while he was held naked in solitary confinement – Manning still hopes to turn his life around.
“This is a young man capable of being redeemed,” the defense lawyer said.
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