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Bradley Manning, convicted of the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison. Kojo examines the judge’s ruling and how it will affect the debate over government secrecy and leaking.
- Elliott Francis WAMU Anchor and Reporter
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, from 15-million-year-old whales to sharks, dolphins, even dinosaurs, what paleontologists are finding in and around the Potomac River. But first, former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was sentenced this morning to 35 years in prison for one of the biggest leaks of classified documents in U.S. history.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe 25-year-old Manning will get credit for more than three years he's already been in jail and will be demoted and dishonorably discharged. The sentence comes a month after a military judge convicted Manning of stealing documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and releasing them to WikiLeaks. But the judge rejected prosecutors' claims that Manning's actions aided the enemy, a charge that could have carried a life sentence.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe question now is what the sentence will mean for the ongoing debate about government secrecy and whether Manning's experience will influence potential leakers in the future. Joining us to talk about this is WAMU 88.5 reporter Elliott Francis. He joins us by phone from Fort Meade, Md. Elliott, thank you for joining us.
MR. ELLIOTT FRANCISMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIElliott, explain the sentence Manning received. He gets credit for time served and could be eligible for parole in 10 years?
FRANCISYes. He gets credit for the time served, 1,294 days for the time that he served in a Virginia prison, much of that at Quantico, prior to his court martial. Going forward, he can be eligible for parole. Actually, it works two ways. He can serve -- he can be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence or 10 years, according to military law, whichever is longer. So let's say, for example -- and, of course, this is improbable -- let's say, for example, he was convicted of 12 years. He would be then eligible to -- for parole after the 10 years, instead of a third of 12 years, if that makes any sense. But...
NNAMDIIt does, indeed.
FRANCISThey believe with the 35 years, that's gonna work out to be about eight years before he's eligible for parole at this point.
NNAMDIThis sentence is a lot less than the 60 years prosecutors asked for.
FRANCISYes, it is. And frankly, from my observation -- and we've been here. WAMU 88.5 News has been here since November, well into the pre-trial hearing. It was my sense, and in talking to some people, that the 60 years that prosecutors asked for was essentially a Hail Mary. Remember, military justice indicated, based on the 20 charges that he was convicted on, that he could spend as much as 90 years in prison.
FRANCISThe prosecution, I think, saw the writing on the wall, knew that much of the evidence that was presented probably did not support going to jail for 90 years. And I thought, listen, let's try and strike a deal with the judge. Let's try and make her see that at least he should serve at least 60 years to send a message, send the kind of message that the government was trying to send to potential leakers and future people who might act in the same way as Manning. But at the end of the day, the judge didn't see it that way.
NNAMDIThe defense attorney, David Coombs, in his closing remarks, said that the defense requests, after the court considers all the facts, a sentence that allows him to have a life. If Bradley Manning is out of prison by the time he's 35 years old, one can conclude that means he will have a life. What message do you think or what message does it seem this sends to potential future leakers?
FRANCISWell, I suppose it can cut both ways. On one hand, yes, we do know now, realize that this current administration is aggressively going after leakers in a way that we've not seen in this century and certainly in most of the past century. But on the other hand, the defense made a good case in saying that Pvt. Manning was a person whose motives were purely based on trying to get information out about things that he saw that he thought were wrong.
FRANCISOn the other hand, of course the prosecution was very vehement about the fact that Manning may have conspired with WikiLeaks to bring this information to light, to get it to our enemies and to have our enemies do us harm. That didn't wash. The evidence didn't support that. So if in the future somebody's looking to leak information to the press -- and again, somebody asked me today, what's the big picture on this?
FRANCISI think the big picture is folks like myself, yourself, Kojo, and all of our colleagues, this sends a chilling message to many people who might bring things to our attention with tips. I mean, that's how we operate in this business. We don't necessarily always go looking for information, but rather we're brought information by people who'll say, listen, I see something here at work, or I see something here in the government, and you probably should look into it because it doesn't look right. It really smells.
FRANCISAnd those tips, which are generally in the form of leaks, are at the basis of where we get our information from and where we start our investigation into many of the stories that the listener and viewers hear.
NNAMDIIndeed there's a great deal of concern in the media about that. Elliott, what was the reaction in the courtroom to the sentence?
FRANCISThe reaction was not as muted as I thought it would be. Of course Judge Denise Lind, a career military judge, a colonel who's adjudicated many of these cases, was very clear and started out as she has been, and she was when the conviction was read about reacting in court. And the supporters, many of them who've been here day after day, were aware of that, and she has exercised that in the past.
FRANCISSo while the verdict -- while the sentencing was being read, it was hushed. It was quiet. Manning and his counsel stood at rod-straight attention, as they do in the military. There was no reaction from Manning. But after she recessed the court, some of the supporters in the gallery, all of which were about 20 by my count, began to chant, hero, and, we're there for you, Bradley. So they did react, but they chose to react after court was recessed, which was the proper way to do it.
NNAMDIWe're talking with WAMU 88.5 reporter Elliott Francis. He joins us by Fort -- from Fort Meade, Md., where he has, since last November, been covering the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is sentenced today to 35 years in prison. Elliott, remind us what it is that Manning released to WikiLeaks, starting in February 2010. It began with logs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and went on to include diplomatic cables and a video showing a U.S. helicopter firing on a group in Iraq that included children and two journalists.
FRANCISAlmost 700,000 individual documents, including the videos that you mentioned, cables and assorted material. The one thing to understand about this is that although the government has concluded -- and by all accounts it's true -- this is the largest leak of classified, secret government information in U.S. history, much of this information, as was detailed in testimony during the court martial, during trial, much of this information was already publicly available.
FRANCISLet me not say much. Some of this information, a large degree of this information was already publicly available and, as many witnesses attested to, could be found in other public sources. So -- and this went very far in terms of the defense's case and the case that they were trying to make in support of Manning, that much of the information that he pulled down, they alleged, was information that he thought, while classified -- and there were really five, if I recall, six different levels of classification within the government.
FRANCISMuch of this information was classified or -- but due to be declassified, if not already declassified, very soon. So -- in Manning's mind, as the defense had alleged. This was information that certainly was out there already, but just was not widely known by a number of people. So he took another information that certainly was classified and intended to bring it to the attention of as many people as possible.
NNAMDIAnd, Elliott, it's my understanding that under military law, the sentence is automatically appealed. What's that process like?
FRANCISWe don't know much about that process right now outside of the fact that, yes, it will be automatically appealed by the appellate court. I had talked with lead attorney David Coombs two days ago, following his closing, and he indicated that he, in fact, will not be the lead attorney on the appeals process. However, he will continue to be involved with Manning's case overall, but there will be another attorney, possibly another set of attorneys, to handle the appeal process going forward.
FRANCISHe did not give us any indication of who that will be. He has a press conference later this afternoon, which we will be attending. Hopefully, we'll get some more clarification on that. But this appeals process, from what we're told, could go beyond the appellate court and could, if they find cause, if they find some basis on which to bring it to their attention, could go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, if at all possible.
NNAMDIElliott Francis, we'll be looking forward to your future reports on the process of this appeal. Thank you so much for joining us.
FRANCISMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIElliott Francis is a WAMU 88.5 reporter who has been covering the Bradley Manning case. He joined us by phone from Fort Meade, Md. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, what paleontologists have been finding in and around the Potomac River. It'll probably surprise you. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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