When a convicted criminal faces up to 136 years in prison, it is hard to imagine being happy about avoiding a life sentence.
But soon-to-be former Army Pfc. Bradley Manning should be in this case. While being found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges brought against him for stealing hundreds of thousands of classified government documents and passing them along to the website WikiLeaks, Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy. That was the most serious count facing the 25-year-old.
A military judge delivered the verdict Tuesday after three days of deliberation. The sentencing phase of the court-martial proceeding begins today inside the courtroom at Fort Meade, Md.
We find ourselves without sympathy for the amount of time Manning will spend behind bars. The low-ranking enlisted man with access to top-secret military and government secrets believed he was performing a great civic duty by sending the incidiary information to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who posted the documents for the world to see. Indeed, many around the globe perceive Manning as a heroic whistleblower.
We believe quite the opposite. The information he passed along had the potential not only to damage diplomatic relations with multiple international partners, but also put fellow soldiers at risk on the battlefield. While the Pentagon has since downplayed that potential, its assessment came only after serious analysis was conducted by many experienced and knowledgable personnel.
Manning had no idea what could happen if, for example, the documents ended up in the hands of then-enemy No. 1 Osama bin Laden -- which they did.
Manning also couldn't have expected much serious discourse to take place simply by leaking the information to another shady character with a website. Assange isn't a journalist, despite what he claims on his resume. He is a hacker who happened to be named Time Magazine's Person of the Year. And all he did was post what Manning sent him.
We would agree with Manning on one issue. The United States should be questioning its warring nature and moral position in the international community. That conversation, however, needs to be demanded by the public at-large.
What Manning did was violate the oath he took which gained him access to the secrets in question. Such a move does not help strengthen the nation or the Constitution.
The disgraced private should be happy he's not facing a life sentence for aiding the enemy, even if ultimately he dies of old age while in prison.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry