US judge jails Wikileaks soldier Bradley Manning for 35 years

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US soldier Bradley Manning who gave hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents to the WikiLeaks website has been jailed for 35 years – but could be released in less than 10.

Prosecutors had called for a minimum of 60 years and the military judge did not offer any explanation for his sentence.

The closely watched case has seen the 25-year-old called both a whistleblower and a traitor.

But his supporters have been unwavering and Amnesty International and the Bradley Manning Support Network have launched an online petition asking president Barack Obama to pardon him.

In pushing for at least a 60-year prison sentence, prosecutors argued the sentence would dissuade other soldiers from following in his footsteps.

The defence suggested a prison term of no more than 25 years so that Private Manning could rebuild his life.

A military judge had convicted the former intelligence analyst of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations and theft and computer fraud.

He could have faced a possible maximum of 90 years in prison and was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.

With good behaviour and credit for the time he has been held, Manning could be out in about six-and-a-half years, according to his defence lawyer David Coombs.

Manning’s rank was also reduced, he was dishonourably discharged and he forfeited his pay.

Military prisoners can earn up to 120 days a year off their sentence for good behaviour and job performance. But they must serve at least one-third of any prison sentence before they can become eligible for parole.

Manning will get credit for about three-and-a-half years of pretrial confinement, including 112 days for being illegally punished by harsh conditions at a Marine Corps brig. His lawyers asserted he was locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day, forced to sleep naked and made to stand naked at attention.

Manning leaked more than 700,000 classified Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department diplomatic messages in 2010 while working in Baghdad.

He has apologised, saying he wanted to provoke a debate on the country’s military and diplomatic actions. “I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people,” he said last week.

His defence team argued he was under severe mental pressure as a young man struggling with gender identity issues at a time when openly gay people were not allowed to serve in the military.

Prosecutors said the leaks endangered the lives of intelligence sources and prompted several ambassadors to be recalled, reassigned or expelled.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last night described the sentencing as a “tactical victory”, but warned it was important support continued

Mr Assange said: “This hard-won minimum term represents a significant tactical victory for Bradley Manning’s defence, campaign team and supporters.

“While the defence should be proud of their tactical victory, it should be remembered that Mr Manning’s trial and conviction is an affront to basic concepts of Western justice.”

In West Wales, where the US soldier spent his teenage years, relatives listened with dismay.

Manning’s uncle, Kevin Fox, told BBC Wales: “It was less time than I thought – that’s got to be a good thing. But to be honest, he shouldn’t have been given any time at all. In my eyes he is a hero.”

Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Bethan Jenkins described it as a sad day for democracy.