By Paul Courson and Matt Smith
FORT MEADE, Maryland (CNN) — Bradley Manning, the Army private whose disclosure of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and diplomatic documents gave American officials a global case of heartburn, was sentenced to more than three decades in prison Wednesday.
A military judge sentenced Manning to 35 years — less than the 60 years prosecutors sought, as well as the 90 years he could have received — minus credit for the about three and a half years he’s already been behind bars.
He showed little to no reaction when the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, sentenced him at Fort Meade, outside Washington. But in a statement read by his attorney afterward, he said he acted “out of a love for my country and a sense of duty,” to expose what he said were abuses committed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The attorney, David Coombs, said the statement was part of Manning’s application for a pardon from President Barack Obama.
“If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society,” the statement said. “I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.”
Manning, 25, was convicted in July of stealing 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos and disseminating them to WikiLeaks, the online anti-secrecy group. Lind also reduced his rank from private first class to private, ordered him to forfeit pay and benefits and be dishonorably discharged.
“We’re still here fighting for you Bradley!” a supporter yelled as Manning was hustled out of the courtroom. “We love you Bradley!” another said. An aunt and a cousin of Manning’s wept openly in the courtroom.
The sentencing wraps up a case of what prosecutors called the biggest leak of classified materials in Army history. The documents included field reports from Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan, video of a U.S. helicopter attack that killed two journalists in Iraq and unvarnished assessments of other countries’ leaders by American diplomats overseas.
Prosecutors have said Manning acted as a “determined insider” in leaking classified information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing his actions created grave risk, disrupted diplomatic missions and endangered lives.
But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Manning’s disclosures revealed misconduct and human rights abuses around the world, while protests that the release of those documents would get people killed “have all been false.”
“There’s a wide range of investigations and prosecutions of people for torture, resignations of different figures in various people in the world as a result of corruption fueled by this information,” Assange told CNN’s “The Lead” in July.
The disclosure of cables from U.S. embassies in late 2010 came in for particular criticism, with U.S. officials arguing they would make it harder for Washington to get accurate appraisals of the countries where American diplomats work. But in 2011, the human rights group Amnesty International said leaked State Department cables helped galvanize opposition to longtime Tunisian strongman Zine El Abedine Ben Ali by revealing the depth of his government’s corruption.
Ben Ali was toppled by a popular revolt that January — the first of the “Arab Spring” revolutions still roiling the Middle East. Assange called Manning a “hero.”
Capt. Joe Morrow, the prosecutor, said Manning’s arrogance meant that he “felt he alone was knowledgeable and intelligent enough to determine what information was to be classified.”
“There may not be a soldier in the history of the Army who displayed such an extreme disregard” for his mission, Morrow said Monday during final sentencing arguments.
But Coombs contended Manning could be redeemed. Coombs did not ask for a specific sentence, but said his client was an excellent candidate for rehabilitation and that he should not be left to “rot in jail.”
“Perhaps his biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn’t ignore it,” he said of Manning’s decision to turn over the explosive information to WikiLeaks.
“This is a young man capable of being redeemed,” Coombs said in final remarks. “The defense requests, after the court considers all the facts, a sentence that allows him to have a life.”
Manning was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges against him, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act. He avoided a potential life sentence when Lind rejected charges that his actions aided the enemy.
CNN’s Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.
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