When the sentencing hearing for former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning begins today, he will face the possibility of spending many decades in prison. Manning was found guilty Tuesday of 19 counts for giving thousands of classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks.
Manning, 25, was acquitted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge against him, which would have put him in jeopardy of a life sentence. He was found guilty of other serious charges, from theft to espionage, for his role in the largest leak of U.S. secrets in history.
The sentencing hearing to determine Manning's punishment could go on for several weeks. And as military law expert Philip Cave tells NPR, the judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, has wide discretion in levying the penalty, which theoretically could range up to more than 100 years in prison.
"She can impose a punishment of no punishment all the way to maximum confinement," Cave says.
The severity of Manning's punishment is expected to hinge on his motives, as well as the amount of damage his acts may have done to the United States. Those considerations were largely excluded from the trial.
And his case will likely have wider ramifications for any U.S. actions against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. After the verdict against Manning was announced, Assange's lawyer in the U.S., Michael Ratner, told NPR that it added to his belief that the U.S. has a sealed federal indictment against Assange. He noted that an American grand jury has been convened to look into the WikiLeaks case.
Assange remains holed up at the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
"Our position is that if Julian Assange leaves that embassy — if he goes to Sweden, or if he goes out on the street — he will ultimately be taken by very fast means to the United States, where he will not be treated well," Ratner said.
The case could also affect the U.S. strategy in pursuing charges against National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
As Boston College law professor Mary-Rose Papandrea told NPR yesterday, the verdict made a distinction between "aiding the enemy — intent to aid the enemy, knowledge that information will be read by the enemy and an intent to have that information read by the enemy — versus individuals who disclose information without authorization but with the intent to disclose them to the public at large."