Reporters Without Borders condemned the 35-year prison sentence meted out today to U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning on charges including 10 counts of espionage and theft.
The Obama administration had hoped to make an example of Manning. That objective has been met.
Reporters Without Borders expressed the hope that the sentence will be reversed on appeal.
“Following the targeting of Edward Snowden, the disproportionate sentence for Manning hits hard at whistleblowers and shows how vulnerable they are,” the press freedom organization said. “The Army is sending a clear message to them and to all journalists who dare to report whistleblowers’ disclosures: the United States will strike back severely at anyone who uncovers information of public interest concerning the exercise of official powers.”
The sentence strikes a blow against American democracy, in which the press must be free to report government abuses, Reporters Without Borders said. The threat of severe sanctions risks compromising the capacity to carry out the basic role of serving as a check on official power.
Snowden, the NSA contractor who is the source of leaks to the Guardian concerning the agency’s surveillance practices, now knows what he can expect. Manning’s sentence, handed down after three years of pre-trial detention in conditions of extreme hardship, and following a trial that lacked fairness, represents a new offensive against whistleblowers by the Obama administration and its British counterpart.
This offensive carries potentially serious consequences for those who hope to protect freedom of information.