Once again we find that the U.S. Army colonel who heard the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning for leaking military documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks exercised proper judgment when she sentenced Manning to 35 years in prison.
Col. Denise Lind had previously found Manning guilty of most of the lesser charges against him, but had acquitted him of the more serious charge of aiding U.S. enemies. That finding allowed Manning to avoid the life-without-parole sentence that accompanies the charge.
The government had sought a 60-year sentence arguing it would serve as a deterrent to anyone considering leaking classified material. Manning's attorney had sought no more than 25 years, arguing the sentence should not exceed the time under which the leaked documents would have remained classified.
Lind sentenced the 25-year-old Manning to 35 years in prison. He will be required to serve one-third of the sentence, minus 31/2 years of time served, before he is eligible for parole. That will be in eight years when he is 33.
Manning's defense attorney, David Coombs, repeatedly portrayed his client as "well-intentioned" and simply naive. He said Manning was motivated by the violence in Iraq and wanted to "spark a worldwide discussion."
That goal certainly was accomplished. Manning became a hero to many for taking action against what he saw as an unjust war. We understand those feelings, but the means by which he did it violated a number of military laws, and soldiers cannot pick and choose which laws they will follow without consequence.
During the sentencing Wednesday, Manning said he was "sorry that I hurt the United States."
"He cares about human life," said Coombs as the sentencing phase of the court-martial at Fort Meade ended last week. "His biggest crime was he cared about the loss of life he was seeing and was struggling with it."
The judge seems to have agreed with that line of reasoning. She issued punishment that fit the seriousness of the crimes charged, but she did not issue a sentence that effectively ruins his young life. Thankfully, she had acquitted him of the aiding charge.
There was little doubt that Manning leaked more than 700,000 pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks, which posted the material online. Doing so violated his oath and military law, but it is not the same as aiding the enemy. Charging him with such chose a prosecution theory that had not been used successfully since the Civil War.
Manning must now serve his time, but still has an opportunity to live a productive life outside of prison walls.