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Advocates say sentence is a serious blow to whistleblowers and investigative journalism, Manning plans to appeal and request President Obama for a pardon

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: On August 21, Army judge Colonel Denise R. Lind sentenced Private Bradley Manning to up to 35 years in prison for leaking WikiLeaks cables, 700,000 secret government files, including State Department cables, Iraq and Afghanistan incident reports, and perhaps most famously the “Collateral Murder” video showing Apache helicopters gunning down unarmed civilians and journalists in Iraq.

His lawyer, David Coombs, said in a press conference after the sentencing that an appeal was imminent.

This is an excerpt of Coombs reading a letter from Manning to President Obama requesting a pardon. Manning said he was spurred to action after witnessing and taking part in the injustices perpetrated by the U.S. government.

DAVID COOMBS, READING A STATEMENT BY BRADLEY MANNING: Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually an American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy–the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps, to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all–and he puts in here women and men are created equal.

NOOR: Legal experts say Manning’s 35-year sentence is, quote, unprecedented. And while Manning could be released on parole in as little as seven years, the military would likely oppose an early release. It sought to imprison Manning for 60 years after he was acquitted of the most serious charges of aiding the enemy, which could have resulted in the death penalty.

In attendance at the press conference was author Chris Hedges, an outspoken supporter of Manning. He says the harsh sentence exemplifies the Obama administration’s crackdown on truth-tellers.

CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I mean, these sentences are ridiculous. I mean, I covered the war in Bosnia, and, you know, one knows from the history of Bosnia that when Princip assassinated Ferdinand, the archduke, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, he received a 20-year sentence.

We have just gone crazy within this prison system, whether it’s for drug offenses, whether it is for, you know, purportedly espionage, the use, the misuse of the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers. And these people are locked up for staggering amounts of time.

So as a former reporter for The New York Times, as someone who was published top-secret information–and let’s remember that everything that Manning disclosed was never classified as top-secret. It was all secret. Four to five million people had access to it. It’s a very low-level form of intelligence information. This has a kind of a–you know, more than a chilling effect, but essentially throws any kind of journalistic activity into the deep freeze.

DR. CORNEL WEST, AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: One day is already an act of injustice, you see, so that the very framework of how many days, how many years strikes me as a kind of secondary question. The primary question is: somebody had the courage to reveal lies and crimes of the U.S. government, and he’s the one who’s criminalized.

NOOR: Author and activist Cornell West was also in attendance.

WEST: I think it shows an administration that is in deep fear, deep insecurity. In some ways it’s on the run because they were afraid of us, they’re afraid of American citizens who are willing to raise questions with regard to their use and abuse of power.

NOOR: Ann Wright, a retired Army reserve colonel and 29-year veteran of of the Army and Army reserves, says Manning is being punished for doing the right thing.

ANN WRIGHT, FMR. U.S. ARMY COLONEL AND STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Being a whistleblower, even in the military, is appropriate, that it is the responsibility and duty of men and women in our military to blow the whistle when they see that our government and our military are participating, conducting illegal and criminal acts. And that’s what Bradley Manning has done. He’s been a whistleblower for the truth.

And I believe the military should look at that and take a lesson from it and prosecute those who actually committed the criminal acts and not Bradley Manning.

So I’m very distressed about the length of time that he will be serving, and I hope that we’ll be able to, through citizen activism, put pressure on our government to pardon him.

NOOR: Manning supporters held rallies in Washington, D.C., and New York, among other cities around the world, calling for his immediate release.

Go to for the full interviews we used in this story.

This is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.