Skip to main content

Bradley Manning should be free

By Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan, Special to CNN
updated 6:36 AM EDT, Thu August 22, 2013
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was convicted July 30 of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, and the counts against him included violations of the Espionage Act. He was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges but acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was convicted July 30 of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of classified documents and videos to WikiLeaks, and the counts against him included violations of the Espionage Act. He was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges but acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
HIDE CAPTION
Key WikiLeaks figures in Manning trial
Key WikiLeaks figures in Manning trial
Key WikiLeaks figures in Manning trial
Key WikiLeaks figures in Manning trial
Key WikiLeaks figures in Manning trial
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: Pfc. Bradley Manning is one of the biggest whistleblowers in U.S. history
  • They say the public needs to know about the U.S. war crimes and torture he revealed
  • Manning should have been sentenced to the 3½ years he already served, they say
  • Writers: 35-year sentence reflects government's despotic desire to "send a message"

Editor's note: Jesselyn Radack is the national security and human rights director for the Government Acccountability Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 1977 to promote corporate and government accountability. She is the author of "Traitor: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban." Kathleen McClellan is the GAP national security and human rights counsel.

(CNN) -- Pfc. Bradley Manning is one of the biggest whistle-blowers in U.S. history, and his case is one of the Obama administration's unprecedented seven prosecutions against national security and intelligence whistleblowers. His disclosures to WikiLeaks revealed war crimes and torture -- topics that are surely in the public's interest to know.

The fact that the mainstream media around the world reprinted the bulk of his disclosures is evidence of the clear value in knowing what our government is doing.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years, but should have been sentenced to time served already: 3½ years, 112 days of which was improper pretrial detention, also known as torture. He suffered prolonged solitary confinement and was forced to be naked.

Manning attorneys seek Obama pardon
Bradley Manning apologizes in court
Brian Manning's extended interview
Bradley Manning verdict: Messages differ

Manning's trial was sparsely covered by the mainsteam media. The alternative media outlets who did cover the story comprehensively were faced with unprecedented secrecy, so much so that for months of pretrial proceedings, none of the court pleadings was publicly available. America should be better than secret courts and the criminalization of whistleblowing.

The military prosecutors asked the judge to lock Manning up for 60 years in order to "send a message." Sending a message has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with justice.

Although it was not the 60 years that the government asked for, Manning's 35-year sentence is still clearly intended to send a message for his conduct -- conduct that provided the public with evidence of clear wrongdoing and did no harm to the United States. The wrongdoers whose crimes Manning exposed enjoyed far gentler fates.

Like Manning, my whistleblower clients, former National Security Agency executive Thomas Drake, who exposed warrantless wiretapping; and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who exposed his agency's use of torture, were charged under the Espionage Act. Unlike Manning, they were not convicted under that act, although Kiriakou is serving out a 30-month prison sentence. As in Manning's case, the only person to be truly punished was the whistleblower.

Drake and Kiriakou helped expose two of the biggest scandals of the post-9/11 era, yet they are the only two people criminally prosecuted in connection with them. The message is clear: It is safer for a government employee to violate the Fourth Amendment or to torture detainees or to gun down apparent civilians, as seen in the "Collateral Murder" video that Manning released to WikiLeaks. (That classified video shows a United States Apache helicopter firing on a group of people in New Baghdad in 2007 who do not return fire. Two of those killed were Reuters' employees; two children were severely injured. An Army investigation found the crew followed the rules of engagement).

Manning's harsh sentence and the government's despotic desire to "send a message" represents yet another dismal step toward secrecy from a presidential administration that once pledged to be the "most transparent in history."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT