Early yesterday, the sentencing phase of the trial of Bradley Manning, the source of the Wikileaks scandal, began at Fort Meade. As I said yesterday, Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge against him. Still, Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including charges of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The prosecution and defense both agreed with Col. Denise Lind that Manning faces a total of 136 years in a military prison for his crimes.
On top of the potential 136-year prison sentence, the parties also agreed that Bradley Manning will be demoted to the rank of enlisted private, dishonorably discharged from the Army, and stripped of all pay and benefits that he would have otherwise received.
The star witness of yesterday’s sentencing hearing was Brig. Gen. Robert A. Carr (ret.), who is now an executive at defense contractor Northrop Grumman. General Carr’s expertise on the matter comes from a long career overseeing the Army’s intelligence gathering operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia. His last assignment as a member of the Army was to gather information and assess the extent to which information released by Wikileaks harmed soldiers in the field and jeopardized American national security.
Now that the bulk of Bradley Manning’s sentence has already been settled, all that remains is to determine how much of the potential 136-year sentence he will actually serve and what monetary fines the court will impose on him. I find it hard to believe at this point that Manning, who is just 25 years old, will ever be a free man. I guess that’s just what 20 separate convictions for espionage will get you. But now that he has been stripped of all benefits and pay and will probably spend most or all of his life behind bars, arguing about monetary fines is basically just a formality. It’s probably not very realistic to expect him to pay up.
Anyways, General Carr’s testimony centered around whether or not Bradley Manning’s crimes actually led to any deaths in the field. General Carr claimed that exactly one death, an Afghani national with ties to the U.S. government, occurred as a result of the Wikileaks scandal. The Taliban reportedly killed him after obtaining the information. However, when pressed by the defense, General Carr admitted that the man was never named in war logs released by Julian Assange and any mention of the death was stricken from the official record. General Carr still insisted that Bradley Manning’s crimes had put U.S. soldiers and Afghani allies at risk by detailing the relationship between certain Afghani forces and the U.S. military.
It’s interesting that not even General Carr, the prosecution’s authority on the supposed damage caused by Bradley Manning, could not point to a single instance where the leaks led to even one casualty. The only such accusation was quickly stricken from the record. To me, this shows just how desperate the government was to make an example out of Manning with the aiding the enemy charge. There’s really no other explanation for moving forward with that charge with only one precarious piece of evidence.
The trial still has a long way go. The defense is still days, maybe weeks away from presenting evidence of mitigating circumstances that could soften the blow of Bradley Manning’s 20 convictions. Like I said before, Manning isn’t going to be a free man any time soon. But if today was any indication, he might not be looking at a 136-year sentence after all.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research