Pte First Class Bradley Manning was found guilty last month of 20 charges, including violating the Espionage Act and theft, while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

The government had asked the judge to sentence Manning to 60 years. “There is value in deterrence, your honor; this court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information,” said Capt. Joe Morrow, a military prosecutor.

Manning addressed the court and apologised, saying he was “sorry that I hurt the United States.”

The decision was immediately condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union, reported the Washington Post.

“When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

Manning’s defence Lawyer David Coombes portrayed Manning as a well-intentioned but isolated solider with gender identification issues. “He cares about human life,” said Coombs. “His biggest crime was he cared about the loss of life he was seeing and was struggling with it.”

A military psychiatrist told the court that Manning had struggled with his gender identity and wanted to become a woman at the time of the leak.

According to evidence presented by the defence at his trial, military supervisors ignored erratic behaviour from Manning, which included trying to grab a gun during a counselling session, reported the BBC

Manning leaked sensitive message between US diplomats, field reports and cockpit footage of a US helicopter killing 12 people in 2007, causing embarrassment to the American government. 

Manning is required to serve one-third of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.

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