People Who Got Shorter Sentences Than Bradley Manning: Spies Selling Secrets To Russians & Active Terrorists

from the disproportionate dept

By now, of course, you’ve heard that Bradley Manning received a sentence of 35 years, and lots of people are arguing over whether or not this is reasonable. In fact, we’ve even seen some people arguing that he got off easy. Okay, well, let’s explore that line of reasoning. Over at the Huffington Post, there’s a good article looking at the sentences that eight actual spies received from the US. These are people who actively sold or tried to sell key US secrets to enemies, such as the Russians, as opposed to revealing wrongdoing to the public via the press. Guess what? The actual spies got off with lighter sentences.

Take, for example, the case of David Henry Barnett, a CIA agent who directly sold secrets to the Russians, including but not limited to outing around 30 active CIA agents to the KGB. Oh, and at the urging of the KGB, he also tried to get a job on Capitol Hill in order to get access to more secrets. He was eventually caught and charged with espionage in 1980… and received an 18 year sentence. Got that? Directly sell the identity of CIA agents to the KGB and you get about half the time that Manning got, not for revealing the identity of any intelligence agents, but basically for embarrassing the State Department and the military. That doesn’t seem right.

Okay. And how about people, including Americans, who actively tried to hurt America? Remember, Manning made it quite clear his goal was to help America. But that’s not true for these five people who joined the Taliban or teamed up with terrorists working on plans to attack America. Those people actively wanted to harm America. And they got shorter sentences.

David Hicks: An Australian national who was captured fighting alongside the Taliban and sent to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002, Hicks plead guilty to material support for terrorism in a Gitmo military commission in 2007 and was sentenced to seven years confinement. That sentence was reduced to nine months given time already served.

John Walker Lindh: Lindh was convicted of a slew of terrorism and conspiracy charges in 2003 for fighting with the Taliban against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Or, for a different type of comparison, how about how other countries have treated leakers of key government information? Once again, we discover people who appear to have revealed much more damaging information… and got off with much lighter sentences.

Had he been born in Denmark, he might have gotten four months for disclosing information a Danish court found highly damaging to national security. That’s the penalty Danish Defense Intelligence analyst Frank Grevil received in 2005 for disclosing threat assessments concerning Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Or, had he been British, he could have been released after serving seven weeks of a six month sentence, as was David Shayler, the former MI5 member who gave a newspaper 28 security and intelligence files on a variety of topics, including on Libyan links with the IRA, Soviet funding of the Communist party of Great Britain, agents’ names and other highly sensitive information.

Or, given his military status, he might have received a sentence of 12 months in jail – the penalty a British judge gave to Navy petty officer Steven Hayden in 1998 for selling significant security and intelligence information to a newspaper concerning a plot by Saddam Hussein to launch anthrax attacks in the UK. That sentence was the heaviest awarded to any of the eight Britons convicted of disclosing sensitive information since the current Official Secrets Act was passed in 1989.

In fact, the article notes that, after looking at the laws of 20 European countries, they discovered that while all have criminal penalties for disclosing classified national security info, most have a top penalty of just a few years in jail, so long as the person leaked the information, rather than delivering it directly to a foreign state. In the UK and Great Britain, for example, the longest time allowed under law is two years in prison. France is the most aggressive punisher, where leakers can face up to 7 years in jail.

Now, compare that to the truth about Bradley Manning. There’s no evidence he put anyone in danger. Nothing he leaked was “top secret” (even though he had top secret clearance). His intent was clear from the beginning and it was not to aid our enemies or to harm America. Yet guess who gets the longer sentence?

Given all of these comparisons, it’s difficult to see how the sentence that Manning received is anywhere even close to proportionate or reasonable. It seems fairly obvious: Bradley Manning was not punished so harshly for harming the US. He was punished for embarrassing the government. That’s not how things are supposed to happen in an open and free society.

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Comments on “People Who Got Shorter Sentences Than Bradley Manning: Spies Selling Secrets To Russians & Active Terrorists”

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silverscarcat (profile) says:

What the hell...

Obama, seriously?

Are you TRYING to go down as the worst President ever? Because you’re WELL on your way to doing so. Right now I’d rather have Zombie Richard Nixon in the White House than you. I’ll take Futurama’s version of Richard Nixon over you.

Hope and Change?

More like “You better Hope I don’t Change how I feel about you right now, because all of you are criminals to me.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What the hell...

“The US President is Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces”

That point was made, but thanks for your confirmation.

“If we want to go to war, Congress must approve to do so”

Oh Wally – you’re so cute

“the buck stops at President Obama”

So the prez should, as part of everyday duties, approve or disapprove of all military court martial sentencing? I find this to be a stretch, by what rational is this reasonable?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What the hell...

“So the prez should, as part of everyday duties, approve or disapprove of all military court martial sentencing?”

Maybe — can you provide a justification for your proposal?

“I find this to be a stretch, by what rational is this reasonable?”

If you find your own strawman to be “a stretch,” perhaps you should not have constructed it so shoddily.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What the hell...

  • “Obama, seriously?” –

    In response to the above allegation that the prez is responsible for the disparity in sentencing of those who divulge state secrets, it was pointed out that the prez does not usually get involved in these matters.

    According to you, this is a strawman. Nice try.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What the hell...

Obama is the commander in chief; every single person in the military ultimately reports to him. If prosecutors were overaggressive, they are HIS prosecutors.

The President also has ultimate pardoning authority. Somehow I doubt Obama is going to use it to release him after he’s served another 3 years.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re: What the hell...

The President proclaimed Bradley Manning guilty long before his trial even started.

It was so embarrassing that the Obama administration had to back track on their statement. It’s apparently a big deal when the President of the United States does not believe in “innocent until proven guilty”.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is only one unforgivable crime

And that is making the powerful elite uncomfortable.

This has always been true — in all civilizations, going back as far as recorded history allows us. Embarrassing Caesar or forcing Napoleon to look in a mirror, exposing the Emperor’s foibles or putting a parking ticket on the Governor’s car: all of these will be punished far more ruthlessly than even the most vicious, brutal crime against ordinary citizens.

Wally (profile) says:

Bradley Manning should have been set to Section 8. He Suffers from Gender Dysphoria. The condition has nothing to do with social gender roles or being LGBT. It is often found in such cases as those as Bradley Manning’s tend to feel like they are trapped in the wrong body or gender due to untreatable physiological and neurological wiring of the brain.

allengarvin (profile) says:


Of course, a lot of the evidence against John Walker Lindh was obtained after he was repeatedly denied access to a lawyer, and when he was threatened with denial of pain medicine and treatment for agonizing wounds. He was kept in the conditions that make Manning’s solitary treatment look positively generous and humane (completely restrained, blindfolded, locked in a metal container in near-freezing conditions, subjected to sleep deprivation).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Lindh

Torture, if you know the person doing it against you will never deal you lasting damage, is not really torture as such. If someone like a certain right wing radio host want torture, he should probably accept it in a foreign country and under a “do your worst” contract, if it should carry any meaning.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Lindh

Torture, if you know the person doing it against you will never deal you lasting damage, is not really torture as such.

Yeah, no.

Mythbusters tested out ‘chinese water torture’, that involved nothing more than drops of water, and even though the one being tested knew without a shadow of a doubt that they could get out of it at any time they wanted, it still had a profound affect on them.

Conflicted on the second half though. On one hand, no-one should be subject to torture, as the mere practice is an affront to human decency and makes you no better than the worse sociopaths out there, but on the other hand if someone is advocating for it to be done to other people, it would only be fair for them to get a little taste of what they are saying is ‘acceptable’ and ‘no big deal’ so they are knowledgeable on the subject next time it comes up.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 To clarify:

While I am wholeheartedly against the practice, and feel it should never be done, I do see where the AC above is coming from when they say that those advocating it should have no problem volunteering themselves to go through it if they are really going to advocate torture as not being a big deal or ‘worth the price’.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Need for Secrecy

We keep hearing about how important these ‘secrets’ are. With all of the things revealed, with the possible exception of outing individuals, the only ‘harm’ has been embarrassment. That embarrassment is directly related to the fact that the information ‘was’ secret. If the information had ‘not’ been secret, there would have been no embarrassment. Thus no need for any of these shenanigans.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is also worth noting that when the Obama administration caught an actual Russian spy ring working in the U.S.–one that was equally high profile–they downplayed the significance and returned the spies to Russian as part of a fairly generous spy-swap agreement. The administration was criticized for failing to show foreign powers or potential spies that there were negative consequences for this type of action.

The message to foreign powers seems to be: we understand that spying is all part of the game and we won’t make you or your agents pay for getting caught. Meanwhile, the message to potential whistle blowers is: don’t you dare give any information to the American public or we’ll label you an enemy of the state and do everything in our power to ruin your life.

sorrykb says:

AC #38 wrote:

Torture, if you know the person doing it against you will never deal you lasting damage, is not really torture as such.


“Torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind…
– UN Convention Against Torture (ratified by the United States in 1994)

Despite all contorted pseudo-legal arguments about “waterboarding/stress positions/whatever-we-feel-like-doing-because-‘terrorism’, it’s torture, it’s illegal, and it’s wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


Unfortunate reality that people tend to forget is that rules don’t work in war.

I’m not trying to justify it by any means. And i’m especially not convinced that this was a necessary war as such. And i believe that officially the US isn’t even at war with any of these people/states/countries/groups etc.

But when the blood starts pumping, and you’re in a position of power over life and death… written laws mean about zilch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Surely from the treatment that Bradley Manning received from the time of his internment up to date was a clue to you that his ‘justice’ would be a kangaroo court in the fullest sense of the meaning.

Even the UN has ruled his treatment was inhumane and unjustified. This was never about justice. This was about embarrassment and setting up an example.

This has been the M.O. for every whistle blower that has had the gall to barrenness this administration and is not a sole glaring example.

More and more it appears we need a new president and impeachment would not be out of the question.

Martin says:

Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does NOT equal civilian law.

All of your examples lack something in common with Manning’s case. None of the people you mentioned were tried in a military tribunal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I totally don’t agree with the ruling, but let’s not spin the issue using irrelevant examples, shall we? Its intellectually dishonest.

DCX2 says:

Re: Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does NOT equal civilian law.

There was a CIA guy, who presumably signed the same “I will not share classified secrets” document that Mr. Manning had to sign.

Also, there is no espionage article in UCMJ.

Last but not least, while on the topic if not being disingenuous, being in the military doesn’t mean you are stripped of the Constitutional protections that every other citizen has. In fact, in some cases the UCMJ provides extra protections; the Supreme Court has found that the UCMJ’s right to a speedy trial creates a more exacting standard than the 6th Amendment.

Anonymous Coward says:

David Hicks doesn't belong on that list

The Hicks prosecution was bogus — he eventually entered an Alford plea just to get out of prison (5 years in Gitmo, among other issues). Note that his “plea deal” included the somewhat suggestive stipulation that he promise not to sue the US government for his mistreatment.

It’s a mistake and unfair for Mike to include the Hicks example above, and I think a correction is merited.


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