It could have been worse for Bradley Manning. It probably will be for future leakers.

August 21, 2013

(Patrick Semansky/AP)

A military court sentenced Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison today — a relatively light sentence that will be further reduced by time served, according to reports.

Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, will also be dishonorably discharged from the military.

The 25-year-old faced a possible 90 years behind bars. Prosecutors were asking for a 60-year jail term. Meanwhile, Manning's defense team argued he should spend no more than 25 years in prison.

Other details of the verdict were favorable, too. Manning's sentence will be reduced by the amount of time he's served, including the 112 days of "abusive treatment" he received in detention at Quantico.

After serving a total of eight years, Manning will be eligible for parole by the time he's 33.

But just because Manning escaped the worst possible sentence won't stop the White House's aggressive pursuit of administration leakers. In fact, Manning's 35-year sentence is the longest ever to be given to a media leaker, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

"This sentence is precedent-setting for all the wrong reasons," said Elizabeth Goitein, a legal expert at the Brennan Center. "Public servants who come across improperly classified evidence of government misconduct and want to blow the whistle will now think twice."

Manning might be feeling relieved today in light of the circumstances. But it's the ones who come after him that ought to worry.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung | August 21, 2013