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Nathan Fuller

Writer & editor for the Bradley Manning Support Network

April 17th, 2013 11:57 AM

16 years for espionage, life in jail for whistleblowing

The military sends a chilling message with its selective prosecution

April 17, 2013

Bradley Manning reading his statement on his motives. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley, Bradley Manning Support Network.
Bradley Manning reading his statement on his motives. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley, Bradley Manning Support Network.

Spc. William Millay, a 25-year-old military policeman, was sentenced yesterday to 19 years in jail, a sentence reduced to 16 years after a plea deal, minus time served, for attempting to commit espionage and for illegally communicating “unclassified national defense information that could be used to the advantage of a foreign nation,” according to an Army press release.

The prosecution of Spc. Millay is strikingly lenient relative to that of Pfc. Bradley Manning, 25-year-old intelligence analyst on trial for passing documents to WikiLeaks. Manning sought to expose documents revealing crimes, abuse, and corruption to the American people, through WikiLeaks, and he faces a potential life sentence. The government charges him with Espionage and with ‘Aiding the Enemy.’

Millay “admitted to trying to pass on classified information to someone he believed was a Russian agent,” according to Reuters’ report. An FBI agent said, “Millay betrayed his nation's trust by attempting to sell classified national defense information for profit to a foreign nation.”

Contrast that motive with Bradley Manning’s. In chat logs with government informant Adrian Lamo, Manning hypothesized, “what if i were someone more malicious…i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?”

“Why didn’t you?” Lamo asked. 

“[B]ecause it’s public data,” he said. “[I]t belongs in the public domain…information should be free…because another state would just take advantage of the information… try and get some edge…if its out in the open… it should be a public good.”

Manning expounded on his reasons for passing to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of documents chronicling U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. diplomacy worldwide, in a statement earlier this year,

I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the [Iraq and Afghan War Logs] this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.

That statement accompanied a guilty plea to lesser offenses, including communicating information to someone not entitled to receive it. That plea could have put Manning in jail for up to twenty years. But that wasn’t sufficient for military prosecutors, who immediately succeeded that statement with the announcement that they’ll continue to pursue all 22 charges against Manning, seeking life in jail without parole. 

The military’s message is clear: Admit to illegally communicating national defense information for profit, and you’ll get a plea deal and 16 years in jail. Admit to making information publicly available to expose abuse, and the government will refuse your plea and seek a life sentence.

This is but one in a long line of courts-martial that highlight the egregious prosecutorial overreach in Bradley Manning’s case. Last year, we documented the trials of the perpetrators of the Haditha massacre in Iraq and of the Kill Team in Afghanistan – those soldiers were freed and made eligible for parole within ten years, respectively.

But they’ve thrown the book at Manning, and then some. In addition to facing a life sentence, Manning has endured nearly a year of solitary confinement, nearly three years of pretrial detention, and a secretive trial designed to minimize media coverage. 

We do not ask that Spc. Millay be sentenced to life in prison as well – rather, we should look to the leniency awarded him and to those who’ve committed far worse crimes to understand how extreme the military’s case against Manning really is. The government wants to cage for life someone who should instead be thanked, freed, and rewarded for his contribution to an informed American democracy.

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