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.