Army Private Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence for leaking reams of classified information is out of proportion with the offenses for which she was convicted, the lawyer who will represent her in court-martial appeals said Tuesday.
Manning began serving her confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in August for sending hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents, plus some battlefield video, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning retained attorney Nancy Hollander and her law partner Vincent Ward last month for the next phase of her military court proceedings.
Hollander pointed out in a telephone interview that Manning’s sentence far exceeds the prison terms of 2 1/2 years or less that U.S. courts have given to others who disclosed government secrets to media.
“It’s a very long sentence compared to other sentences for similar kinds of situations that I’m aware of, or even dissimilar situations like rape and murder,” Hollander said.
Military prosecutors at Manning’s trial called the former intelligence analyst an anarchist hacker and traitor who indiscriminately leaked information she had sworn to protect, knowing it would be seen by al-Qaida. It was among the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.
Manning supporters consider her a whistleblower who exposed U.S. war crimes and diplomatic hypocrisy while working in Iraq.
Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, was convicted in July of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, but was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. After sentencing, Manning declared a desire to live as a woman named Chelsea, having been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
With good behavior, the 26-year-old from Oklahoma could be released as early as February 2020, according to her trial attorney, David Coombs.
Hollander said it would be premature to discuss legal strategy, since she hasn’t yet received a transcript of Manning’s trial from which to begin crafting an appeal.
Nevertheless, “I know the issues that I believe are some of the main issues that will come up,” Hollander said. Beside the sentence length, she said the case raises issues “big issues” about freedom of information and why the government keeps certain things secret.
“It’s the kind of work we do, and it’s a righteous case,” Hollander said.
Hollander’s background includes national security and civil-rights issues. She currently represents two Guantanamo Bay detainees in U.S. Military Commissions proceedings, including Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the 2000 al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
Hollander has no military court experience but her partner Ward is a former Navy prosecutor.
Manning can’t file an appeal until Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of the Military District of Washington, D.C., has finalized the trial findings. Coombs has asked Buchanan to reverse the convictions and 35-year sentence.
Coombs is not representing Manning in appeals but is helping her pursue a legal name change and hormone replacement therapy in prison.
WikiLeaks’ publication of diplomatic cables, warzone logs and videos embarrassed the U.S. government and its allies. U.S. officials warned of dire consequences in the days immediately after the first disclosures in July 2010, but a Pentagon review later suggested those fears might have been overblown.