Former Army Pfc. Bradley Manning may have been handed a 35-year prison sentence on Wednesday for leaking classified documents, but “his fight is not over” and he could be free much sooner, according to Manning attorney David Coombs.
Manning’s sentence could be reduced through a clemency process, and he also plans to file an appeal of the conviction, Coombs said during a press conference on Wednesday a few hours after the sentence was rendered by a military court judge.
There’s another potential avenue for Manning as well, Coombs said: “Hopefully, the president does the right thing and those options are ruled out because he pardons him or releases him with time served.”
Manning, who has also been dishonorably discharged from the Army, had faced a maximum of 90 years in prison on charges related to his leaking of a massive store of classified documents to Wikileaks in 2009 and 2010.
The documents Manning gave to Wikileaks included details of detainee abuse in Iraq as well as an airstrike in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of civilians.
He was acquitted of the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, but was found guilty on a series of lesser ones, including some he pleaded guilty to earlier this year.
Barring a pardon or successful appeal, Manning could be out of prison in as little as seven years, according to Coombs. Military legal guidelines would allow Manning a parole hearing after 10 years, a period which would further be reduced by the more than three years Manning has already spent in detention, he said.
However, Coombs portrayed Manning as someone comfortable with what he had done and prepared to serve his sentence.
After the sentence was handed down, Coombs was in tears, whereas Manning tried to comfort him.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, I know you did your best. I’m going to be OK,’” Coombs said. “That shouldn’t happen. I, as the attorney should be cheering him up.”
In a pretrial statement, Manning said he believed releasing the information “could spark a domestic debate on the role of our military and foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
But Manning reportedly expressed some regrets during a sentencing hearing held last week, saying he was “sorry that my actions hurt people,” and “sorry that they hurt the United States.” However, he also said he believed at the time that leaking the documents would help people.
Coombs spoke to the broader themes surrounding Manning’s conviction.
“What’s at stake here is, how do we as a public want to be informed about what our government does,” he said. “The National Security apparatus has exploded since 9/11. You don’t even understand how much money is put into national security because that’s secret too.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called Manning’s sentence “a significant tactical victory” for his defense team, family and supporters in a statement released Wednesday. “At the start of these proceedings, the United States government had charged Bradley Manning with a capital offence and other charges carrying over 135 years of incarceration.”
However, “Manning’s trial and conviction is an affront to basic concepts of Western justice,” he added.
Assange’s organization is also supporting former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked information about NSA surveillance programs and is now in Russia, having been granted asylum.