On Wednesday, Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to the website WikiLeaks in 2010.
The judge, Army Col. Denise R. Lind, could have sentenced him to up to 90 years after finding him guilty of 20 crimes, including several violations of the Espionage Act. The 25-year-old Manning, who was also dishonorably discharged, will be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence, minus the three years he already spent in jail and the 112 days of "inhuman" treatment he was judged to have suffered in a Quantico brig.
WikiLeaks, a staunch defender of Manning throughout his trial, seemed optimistic about the sentence:
Significant strategic victory in Bradley Manning case. Bradley Manning now elegible for release in less than 9 years, 4.4 in one calculation
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 21, 2013
Business Insider's Josh Barro was also satisfied with the outcome, although for different reasons:
Pretty glad that Bradley Manning, a bad guy who committed a serious crime, is getting a long jail sentence, btw.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) August 21, 2013
Manning's sentence was "appropriate and fair," wrote Todd Robberson of the Dallas Morning News, adding, " If you’re going to be the 'hero' who risks all to blow the whistle and reveal top secret data, then you must be prepared to accept the consequences."
Others argued that Manning's sentence was unduly severe.
Liza Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, told The Guardian that it was "dramatically longer than the longest sentence ever served for disclosing classified information to the media, which was two years." She added that it was "similar to the sentences that have been handed down for paid espionage on behalf of enemy countries."
Several prominent members of the tech community also found the sentence to be harsh:
Bradley Manning will serve more years in prison than all other convicted leakers and whistleblowers combined. What a travesty.
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) August 21, 2013
To those who say, “If #bradleymanning were in [totalitarian foreign state] he’d be executed,” we’re now holding US to those worst standards?
— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) August 21, 2013
Of course, the severity of the sentence was meant to correspond with the fact that Manning's leak was by far the largest ever in U.S. history. In an age in which massive amounts of sensitive data can be downloaded in the blink of an eye, the government has been eager to make an example of Manning.
Still, Amnesty International called for President Barack Obama to give Manning a presidential pardon, an unlikely prospect considering his administration has charged twice as many people under the Espionage Act than every other president combined.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, agreed that Manning did not deserve any jail time, although he told the Associated Press that the judge's sentence was better than the "vicious" 60 years that the prosecution was pushing for.
Another leaker of classified documents who was probably watching the trial closely: Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who shared classified documents about the NSA's electronic surveillance program to Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and has also been charged under the Espionage Act.
Greenwald argued that Manning's sentence was a good reason for Snowden to stay in Russia, where he has claimed asylum:
Manning sentenced to 35 years: gee, I wonder why Snowden doesn't trust US justice as a whistleblower http://t.co/Or8W6MAanA
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 21, 2013
Manning's sentence will now be reviewed by the general of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, who can reduce it but not add to it.