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Chelsea Manning Received Same Sentence As Soldier Who Tried To Sell Information

Attorneys for United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning argue her sentence was “far and away the most severe sentence ever adjudged” in the appeal filed at the Army Court of Criminal Appeals (ACCA). It challenges the Army for sentencing Manning to around the same amount of time as a soldier who sold classified information to someone he believed was a spy.

Manning was convicted of offenses nearly three years ago. The charges stemmed from her decision to provide WikiLeaks with over a half million U.S. government documents and a video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, widely known as the “Collateral Murder” video. She exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials. She is serving her sentence at Fort Leavenworth.

Bryan Martin, a Navy intelligence specialist, pled guilty in 2011 to 11 charges, which stemmed from selling classified information to an undercover FBI agent. He paid for information four times at motels nearby Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He thought the FBI agent was a Chinese spy.

“By all measures, Pfc. Manning received the same sentence as a service member who wished to sell classified information for money,” her appeal declares [PDF].

Another case, which is much more well-known, involves General David Petraeus. He pled guilty to disclosing “highly classified information to his former mistress and biographer. He apparently disclosed the materials for sex.” Yet, for his crime, he pled guilty to one misdemeanor and was only sentenced to two years of probation.

The information, which Petraeus improperly possessed, included “Black Books” containing the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities, and notes from his discussions with President Barack Obama. He also lied to FBI special agents about leaking to his biographer. But his defense was able to convince prosecutors to back off and avoid charging Petraeus with a felony that would make it impossible for him to work as an adviser on matters of war in Washington again.

According to the appeal, “The trial counsel in Pfc. Manning’s case claimed her crime was worse than any soldier in history. He obviously did not have the benefit of knowing about General Petraeus’s misdeeds when he made the statement.”

Manning’s attorneys distinguish Martin and Petraeus’s from three whistleblower prosecutions pursued in federal court.

The appeal highlights Thomas Drake, an analyst for the National Security Agency, who blew the whistle on fraud, waste, and abuse involving a program called Trailblazer. He was accused of retaining classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. The Justice Department zealously pursued him, but ultimately, the case collapsed. Drake pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a year of probation—all because he spoke to a Baltimore Sun reporter about corruption at the NSA.

(*Note: A top official from the Defense Department inspector general’s office, John Crane, came forward to publicly affirm Drake’s claims that the IG office, which is supposed to back up whistleblower claims, sold him out to the Justice Department and revealed his identity to prosecutors, who used information provided to the office to criminalize him.)

CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling is in federal prison in Littleton, Colorado, serving a sentence of three and a half years. A jury found him guilty of providing information on a botched operation in Iran to New York Times reporter James Risen, even though there was only a scant amount of circumstantial evidence to prove he leaked details to Risen. Federal sentencing guidelines advised prosecutors to sentence Sterling to more than twenty years in prison.

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who was a State Department employee who provided classified information to Fox News reporter James Rosen about the nuclear capabilities of North Korea, was sentenced to thirteen months in federal prison.

As the appeal states, “In the pantheon of cases involving disclosures motivated by whistleblowing, Pfc. Manning’s is far and away the most severe sentence ever adjudged. In the last five years alone, federal prosecutors have prosecuted more whistleblowers than at any time.”

The nearly 200-page appeal was submitted to ACCA on May 18. Manning’s attorneys, Nancy Hollander, Vincent Ward, and Captain Dave Hammond, her detailed counsel, spent years meticulously and methodically going through the vast array of records from her court martial to put together what they believed would be a robust appeal. Manning also took the time to raise over a hundred thousand dollars in funds for what is expected to be a costly challenge.

Shadowproof previously covered the significance of the appeal, such as how it alleges the Espionage Act was unconstitutionally applied to Manning and how Manning’s sentence became one of the “most unjust” sentences in military justice history.

Manning completed her sixth year in military custody on May 28.

“I have faced many struggles: my pre-trial time in solitary confinement, the charges against me under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the unconstitutionally vague Espionage Act, the lack of proof by the government that the disclosures actually harmed the United States’ national security or diplomatic interests in any significant way, and my eventual conviction and sentencing to an unprecedented 35 years in prison,” Manning wrote on her blog at Medium.

She said one thing she had learned is to act as her own “filter for information” instead of relying on others to “digest information” for her.

“This appeal is about more than just me personally. It’s about the chilling precedent set for future truth-tellers, journalists, and whistleblowers. It’s about free speech and a free press. It’s about your right to know the truth — to have access to enough information to allow us as a society to make informed decisions,” Manning added.

Her attorneys requested the appeals court reduce her sentence to ten years.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."