Bradley Manning Sentenced to 35 Years

Bradley Manning will be spending a long time at Leavenworth.


Bradley Manning will be spending a long time at Leavenworth.

WaPo (“Judge sentences Bradley Manning to 35 years“):

A military judge on Wednesday morning sentenced Pfc. Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Manning, 25, was convicted last month of multiple charges, including violations of the Espionage Act for copying and disseminating the documents while serving as an intelligence analyst at a forward operating base in Iraq. He faced up to 90 years in prison.

According to the military, Manning is required to serve one-third of the sentence before he becomes eligible for parole.

The government had asked Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel, to sentence Manning to 60 years. “There is value in deterrence, your honor; this court must send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information,” said Capt. Joe Morrow, a military prosecutor. “National security crimes that undermine the entire system must be taken seriously.”

Defense lawyer David Coombs portrayed Manning as a well-intentioned but isolated soldier with gender identification issues, and he asked Lind to impose “a sentence that allows him to have a life.”


Manning will receive a credit of 1,293 days for the time he has been confined prior to the sentence, including 112 days of credit for abusive treatment he was subjected to at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va.


According to his lawyers, Manning became more and more stressed in Iraq, wrestling with his sexuality and the breakup of a relationship. At one point, in April 2010, he sent an e-mail to a superior with the subject line “My Problem” and a photo of himself wearing a blond wig and lipstick.

On May 7, Manning was found on the floor of a supply room with a knife at his feet. After some brief counseling, he was returned to his work station. Later that same day, he struck a fellow soldier and was removed permanently from the secure environment where he worked.

Following these events, Manning boasted to hacker Adrian Lamo that he had been working with WikiLeaks. After engaging Manning for several days, Lamo informed Army investigators and the FBI about the breach of information and provided them with his chat logs with Manning.

As with Major Hasan, I think the Army is culpable for ignoring numerous red flags that clearly showed he shouldn’t have been trusted with sensitive materials.Time and again, he displayed erratic behavior and unsuitability for military service and yet was allowed to not only remain in uniform but given carte blanche to access Sensitive Compartmented Information.

Further, the conditions of his imprisonment were often unnecessarily cruel. That’s shameful.

But, despite all that, he deserves a very heavy sentence for his crimes. He swore to uphold the Constitution and to safeguard the nation’s secrets and he violated that trust. Whatever problems there might be with our system of classification and our tendency to keep things secret, it’s not up to privates first class to decide what information should be released to the public and our enemies.

All in all, absent compelling proof that the released materials caused the death of Americans or our allies, 35 years strikes me about right.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Next up, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.


  2. Ben Wolf says:

    @James Joyner

    I’m sorry but I don’t agree. The highest duty of any citizen is to bring wrongdoing to the public’s attention. Furthermore the state and the Constitution are not one and the same; Manning decided to take actions he believed were, in fact, to defend the Constitution against a government behaving in a lawless fashion. Some may dispute that interpretation which is fine, but I don’t think the issue is nearly so black and white as you suggest.

    Manning will spend the coming decades being abused by the guards and by the inmates, the sort who hate queers and traitors and will take it upon themselves to make the life of anyone not sufficiently Murkin’ a living hell, so I absolutely reject the sentencing as being just or deserved.

  3. Mike says:

    I was way off – i guessed 17-20 years.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Ben Wolf: PFCs don’t get to decide what secrets to share with the enemy.

    I’m with you in bad treatment in our prisons and of Manning in particular. That’s good reason to reform our system. It’s not good reason for Manning not to be severely punished for his crimes.

  5. Ben says:

    James, maybe it’s changed since the last time I’ve heard it, but the oath of enlistment doesn’t include “to safeguard the nation’s secrets”. If you want to say that it comes under the umbrella of following orders, then say so. But let’s not read things into the oath that aren’t there.

  6. Ben says:

    I’m stealing this line from Greenwald:

    “Obama admin: we aggressively prosecute those who expose war crimes, and diligently protect those who commit them.”

  7. Davebo says:

    I can’t believe some are defending this guy.

  8. 11B40 says:


    Back in the days when sodomy laws were enforced, Lenny Bruce used to do a “comedy” bit about the logic of locking male homosexuals (archaic word exemption requested) up in men’s prisons. Also, based on PFC Bradley’s recently announced (in time for sentencing consideration) “gender confusion” won’t the government be responsible, in a burgeoning “human rights” kind of way, for shuttling the PFC back and forth between male and female and, perhaps, otherly classified prisons, depending on how the convict “feels” at the moment?

  9. C. Clavin says:

    I’m OK with 35 years.
    I would like to see people like Cheney and Libby, who endangered the lives of a covert operative and her contacts, do some hard time for their crimes. Or Bush, who instituted a program of torture.
    It’ll never happen…but I’d like to see it.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    I think this sentence is unconscionable. He’s a mixed up young man (or woman), not a master spy. He did no appreciable harm to the United States or our military. His motives were not destructive.

    And while it doesn’t bear directly on his actions, it is disgusting to see the utter lack of accountability for Abu Ghraib and the ongoing protection of torturers.

    This doesn’t send a message of justice, it sends the message that the system is corrupt and will protect those in the chain of command while coming down hard on the lowest level miscreants.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @Mike: “I was way off – i guessed 17-20 years.”

    Me too, I was at around 20 years. A generation seems adequate to make the point and deter future self-proclaimed heroes.

  12. Anderson says:

    I don’t have a problem with this sentence, but I do have a problem, like many commenters, with the discrepancy between leaking documents and conspiring to torture.

  13. Todd says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Two problems:

    1) When a person enlists, they swear to support and defend the Constitution (not their own interpetation of the Constitution).

    2) Those who have access to classified information sign an NDS. I’ve yet to see an NDS that offers an exception which allows you to divulge classified information as long as it’s to a reporter, if you think it will “do no harm”, and/or if it’s something you think the public “really needs to know about”.

  14. Barry says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: Oh, of course. But before that, we’ll see long prison sentences handed out to the people who tortured and murder prisoners, and who ordered that, and, of course, the various people who happily leaked information when it suited the purposes of Bush and Cheney.

    Any f-ing century now.

  15. @michael reynolds:

    I agree with you, but I must say I’m extremely surprised that you feel this way.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    Scooter Libby got 30 months – months not years – for covering up Dick Cheney’s outing of a CIA agent for purely political reasons.

  17. refn says:

    Manning should be given a medal and the criminal leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties should be sent to gitmo and tortured to death.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg:

    The fact that I worship at neither the shrines of Mr. Manning nor of Edward Snowden does not mean I wish to see either man subjected to draconian punishments. I’d have given Manning time served. (And an apology for the way he’s been treatd while in custody.)

    And had Snowden not decided to make a world tour of authoritarian, oppressive and anti-American nations in his quest for. . . well, whatever the hell he thinks he’s up to. . . I’d have wanted to see a couple of years at most.

  19. PJ says:

    Of the 35 years, Manning will have to serve 11 years and 8 months until he’s up for parole, but he has been credited 3 years and 6 months for the time has has already been confined, so he could be released in 8 years and 2 months. (I doubt that he will be, but it could happen.)

  20. Tillman says:

    Wasn’t his big release the diplomatic cables that partially started the Arab Spring? Or was it the video that was edited into ‘Collateral Murder’? Or both?

    Either way, sounds like a potential pardon recipient! Haha.

    @James Joyner:

    PFCs don’t get to decide what secrets to share with the enemy.

    Did the prosecution actually prove there was an enemy to share secrets with? I’m with the baseline there, “don’t share with the enemy,” but we’re not in a declared war and it’s kinda hard to prove a straightforward enemy in this murky grey area called “the war on terrorism.”

    Mind you, just how the government prefers it in all likelihood, but it should spur us to straighten our definitions up a bit to prevent exploitation.

  21. Andy says:

    I think the sentence is too long – I would probably put it at about 1/2 that.

    35 years is about 30 years served with good time . Parole would be before that. Christopher Boyce (AKA the Falcon) served 24 years plus 5 on probation out of an original 40 year sentence, just for comparison. What Boyce did, IMO, was much worse than Manning.

    It’s not over yet though, the convening authority could unilaterally reduce the sentence, but that seems unlikely. Of course there will be appeals as well.

  22. John Peabody says:

    These were wartime conditions. The only reason that Manning was kept in place (according to his NCOIC) is that he was doing decent work that was desparately needed. In another time and place, sure, he would have been removed from sensitive situations. But, because of the war, the US was that needful that they had a flake like Manning working with this data.

  23. Tillman says:

    In all honesty, he should’ve been released with time served after the idiots at Quantico abused the crap out of him. Snowden fled America partly because of those torturing morons.

  24. Scott says:

    @James Joyner: I really have no idea as to the correct sentence; however, a couple of points:

    The common thread of the comments concerns inequity of punishment served out to those of power vs the Mannings of the world. Inequity may have always been with us but it seems to be increasing whether it be based on relative power, race, wealth, etc. If there is anything that will undermine our system is the perception that there is not fairness in our processes.


    “PFCs don’t get to decide what secrets to share with the enemy.”

    That is a little hyperbolic. Manning did not share with the enemy but with all of us. Unless we are considered the enemy.

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:


    remind me when people who swear an oath of enlistment stop being subject to civilian laws?

    You folks are busily debating the morality of what Manning did, and why, but that has no bearing on the ILLEGALITY of what he did, which isn’t in question.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: He intentionally released the information into the wild at a time when the country was fighting two wars. The enemy therefore has that information.

  27. Tony W says:


    1) When a person enlists, they swear to support and defend the Constitution (not their own interpetation of the Constitution).

    Right wingnuts’ and originalists’ positions notwithstanding, the fact is that without some level of interpretation the constitution is essentially meaningless. First year law students quickly learn the reason for the fuzzy language of “due process” and “unreasonable” search and seizure, etc. This language is deliberate, so as to give guidance, without being overly prescriptive.

    I’m not defending or condemning Manning (or Snowden for that matter) – I don’t know enough about their cases, the interim steps they took, and their overall motivations and circumstances, but to simply describe “defend(ing) the Constitution” as a black-and-white endeavor is disingenuous.

  28. Ben says:


    I never said that he didn’t break the law; he most certainly did. I was taking exception to James’s implication that he violated his oath. People saying he violated an oath are making a moral argument, not a legal one.

    My biggest problem with a lot of the comments you’ve made on this site is your absolute obsession with the letter of the law with no regard to the spirit of it, or indeed to the morality of a situation. I agree he broke the law, and deserved a sentence. Considering the ridiculously over-the-top mistreatment he’s endured so far, I’d have sentenced him to time served. Lawbreakers are not the only one who needs a deterrent here. The government should be deterred from treating it’s prisoners like that. Time served would have provided some sting back at the government and maybe make them think twice before doing it again.

  29. al-Ameda says:

    35 years? What Manning did was definitely illegal, however it seems to me that the sentence is out of proportion to the offense and the results of his actions. Before and during the trial it was not clearly demonstrated that he did great harm to our nation and our allies.

    Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, and perhaps it’s the difference between 35 years and 20 years, or 10 years, but justice should be fairly and justly administered, that is, in the spirit of the law.

  30. Tillman says:


    People saying he violated an oath are making a moral argument, not a legal one.

    Uhh, I don’t think that’s the case this time. Oaths are legally binding, hence the charge of perjury.

  31. Tillman says:

    @James Joyner: Didn’t he technically give the information to an outside group, that then intentionally released the information into the wild?

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I have a problem with low ranking people deciding on their own what should and what should not be secret. That said, I probably would have given him 5-10 years with credit for time served, etc. That seems about right for the crime of embarrassing Hillary Clinton.

  33. Todd says:

    @Tony W: I agree that the Constitution requires interpretation, but that’s what we have courts for.

    It’s not the job of a low-level enlisted soldier, or a defense contractor employee to decide for themselves what’s “constitutional” and what’s not.

    I have a problem with this when it comes to ideologues on either extreme of the political spectrum.

    If you’re a civil libertarian who’s concerned about invasion of privacy or govenment overreach, go start a blog, become a reporter, find a way to get on tv … essentially spread your message, that’s fine. But you’ve got no business accepting a security clearance to access classified information, if you intend to disclose it to unauthorized sources. (period)

    And on the other side of the coin …

    I have absolutely no use for these “oath keeper” morons.

    If you’re all about the 2nd Amendment, and you’re worried that the govenment is going to lock up all the “good” people some day, then feel free to go start a compound off in the woods, and even gather up a few buddies to form a “militia” if you’d like. But you’ve got no business holding a position of authority within civilized society if you’ve made clear your intentions to “rise up” against the very govenment that you’re supposedly a part of.

    In short, I’m all for dissent, and attempts to reform and shape our government … but only in the “right” way. We can’t have every Tom, Dick and Harry within the government deciding for themselves which rules they’re going to follow and which ones they’re going to flout. The result would be chaos.

  34. Modulo Myself says:


    I would say that compared to the actual atrocities and mayhem of Iraq, what Manning did did not even register as chaos.

    This will happen again and again. The American military operates as a medium for behavior that would otherwise be deemed psychopathic. Most of the officers appear to be yes-men desperate to please their superiors. There’s going to be hundreds of Mannings in the future who will be contemplating doing what they can to strike back.This sentence is just a warning against integrity.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Former prosecutors tend to think that way. I’m not much on the “well, your situation is different, because I like what you did” line of thinking.

    The law is the law. If you violate it, you suffer the consequences, without exception. It is not a moral question. Moral questions are for tortured idealists suffering away in their angst over a less than perfect world, and I realize that a stance like mine offends them. I just don’t care.

    I’d prosecute my own parents if faced with having to do so, without blinking, and indeed did send a former classmate and friend to federal prison for securities fraud. There are no exceptions to the law with me. Period. Ever.

    As for the rest – he faced up to 154 years in prison. He got 35. He has received all the leniency (and then some) which he might have been expected to receive.

  36. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    With all due respect, sir, until and unless you have served, you can shove that passing out daises to soldiers claptrap up your ass.

    Or shoulder a weapon and ensure your own security. Your choice.

  37. michael reynolds says:


    The law is the law.

    In 1945, Dachau was liberated by American soldiers. Most of these soldiers were pretty hard boys by that point, but Dachau was too much even for them. A number of SS guards – after surrendering and being disarmed — were shot down by American soldiers. American soldiers also pointedly looked away as survivors tore guards literally to pieces.

    Eisenhower wanted to prosecute the soldiers. They had broken the law. Somehow all those prosecutions went awry in various ways and no one was tried. Personally, I would call that justice. But you would have prosecuted those men for murder? Sent them to prison?

  38. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Appeals of guilty pleas? Just saying …

  39. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Without blinking and I would have slept like a baby afterward. Moral outrage is no excuse for voiding due process of law.

    What’s next? Allowing roving bands of citizens to beat pedophiles to death (just as a hypothetical)? We have laws, and a system to enforce those laws, for a reason. When we accept the rationalization of sidestepping the law in the interest of expediency or subjective morality, then the eventual outcome is anarchy. I’d just as soon avoid that.

  40. mantis says:

    Excessive. 10 years would have been plenty as a deterrent.

    Whether other people have been prosecuted for unrelated, alleged crimes is irrelevant. Yes, Libby and Cheney belong in prison for longer sentences than Manning, but that has zero to do with Manning’s sentence.

  41. michael reynolds says:


    The Germans made the identical argument. After all, SS concentration camp guards were obeying German law and obeying the orders of their chain of command. We imprisoned some people and hanged others because we believe that immoral laws are not binding and cannot be an excuse for immoral behavior.

    You don’t want me to go Godwin on you? Fine. Let’s try another. A few years ago a girl’s school in Saudi Arabia caught fire. The fleeing students were forbidden to escape by religious police because the law required the girls to be modestly-attired. 15 girls dead, dozens burned.

    Too foreign? How about this: the law required runaway slaves to be returned to their “owners.”

    You don’t get to opt out of basic human morality. When your religion, your ideology, or even your legal system require you to commit moral outrages, it’s time to set aside your religion, ideology and system and behave like a human being.

  42. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “The law is the law. If you violate it, you suffer the consequences, without exception. ”

    Which is why the banks that have been illegally “foreclosing” on houses for which they’ve never held mortgages are seeing their top executives going to jail.

    It’s why the head of Massie Energy is currently serving a prison time for negligent homicide after he deliberately flouted safety rules and allowed miners to die.

    It’s why top officials from the Bush administration are only partly through their stern sentences for ordering torture.

    Oh, wait — none of these are true? In fact, the rich, powerful and well-connected are almost never punished for major crimes while the poor and the weak rot in jails, even after their innocence has been proven — because prosecutors hate admitting they were wrong despite what that darned DNA has to say?

  43. john425 says:

    The punishment is not commensurate with the crime. He should have been tried for treason and when convicted–shot.

    As to those wussies who bemoan all things military…”We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us.”

  44. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Or shoulder a weapon and ensure your own security.”

    Pardon me, soldier, but no one fighting in Iraq or even Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban was their to “ensure my own security.” Frankly I’m pretty sure I, along with most of the rest of the world, would have been a lot more secure if our president hadn’t decided to invade a country that posed no threat to us.

    We can respect the work and the sacrifice of those who do our fighting without having to pretend they’re “keeping us safe.”

  45. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Not to belabor the point, but emotional arguments get exactly nowhere with me. If you have immoral laws, then you work to change those laws. You don’t accept violating them because you have found a way to allow your moral evaluation of the situation to exempt you from following them.

    While you’ll find it objectionable, yes, runaway slaves should have been returned, until such time as the laws are changed. Zero passion here. You’ll honestly get nowhere trying to come at me with an emotional argument, sorry.

  46. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “The fleeing students were forbidden to escape by religious police because the law required the girls to be modestly-attired. 15 girls dead, dozens burned.”

    Don’t you understand? The law is the law. If these girls disapproved of the law, it was their duty to stay in that burning school until the fire was out, and then launch a petition drive to change the law.

    I’ve always wondered about the mentality of the prosecutors who fight against the release of convicted felons after their convictions have been proven false by irrefutable evidence. But now I see — it’s not about justice, it’s about the law. And the law can never be wrong, no matter what the facts are.

  47. wr says:

    @john425: Umm, you do realize that Colonel Jessup is the bad guy in A Few Good Men, and his moving speech is nothing more than justification for murdering someone he simply didn’t like?

    No, I don’t suppose you do…

  48. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Not to point out the obvious, but you are making my argument for me. All of those people / entities should have been prosecuted. Were the decision to have been left up to me, all of them would have been.

    Moaning that the system is unfair, which it can be, is no excuse for jettisoning it or ignoring it. It is an argument for improving it to make it more consistent.

  49. Modulo Myself says:


    Spare me the cheap piety, please. The American military is not some holy institution. As far as hippies and daisies go, read Kill Everything That Moves.

    And as far as Manning goes, he claims that he warned his superior officers that Iraqis arrested (and then tortured) for handing out anti-government pamphlets had no ties to terrorists and militants. His superiors, he claims, told him to shut up and get back to work. I’ve read no refutation of this claim. How could there be? Torture was American policy in Iraq. We even brought in the same guy who organized Central American death squads.

    Based on this, of course people who are impressionable enough to believe that they are fighting for freedom are going to have problems with the what they are being told to do. And they should have problems, because what they are being told to do is wrong.

  50. HarvardLaw92 says:


    We can respect the work and the sacrifice of those who do our fighting

    Calling them borderline psychopaths, as he did, does neither.

  51. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I have read no substantiation of his claims. In fact, the only person who seems to be making them is him, and he has every reason in the world to lie about and/or embellish his actions.

    As for the rest, we’ll just have to disagree. The conversation with you will go to ugly places that I would rather just avoid.

  52. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Not to split hairs, but Jessup was accused of violating a direct order, not of murder. Frankly, I agreed with his position. The military is not some “everybody gets a trophy for showing up” entity, nor should it ever become one, and a soldier who can’t carry his own weight is more than a detriment to morale – he/she is a threat to the safety of the soldiers around him. You don’t take those lightly or treat them with kid gloves in some hippie “I’m ok, you’re ok” love fest. You fix them or you get rid of them ASAP.

  53. seth says:

    He should be put to death the traitor ,and all these people complaining about Bush and torture,well if it was not for torture more then half the terrorist leaders would still be alive as well as Usama bid laden.

  54. James Joyner says:


    Maybe we as officers have a responsibility to this country to see that the men and women charged with its security are trained professionals. Yes. I’m certain I once read that somewhere. And now I’m thinking that your suggestion of transferring Santiago, while expeditious, and certainly painless, might not be in a manner of speaking, the American way.

  55. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:


  56. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    I was wondering when the first mention of the Plame mess would come up, and how many lies would be told. I was so hoping to be disappointed.

    To call Plame a “covert agent” is a total crock. And Libby was convicted of lying about telling the truth about a liar.

    On the other hand, the Obama administration outed the Pakistani doctor who helped us find Bin Laden, and he’s still in a Pakistani jail. Biden outed the group (and named the commanding officer) of the team that got Bin Laden. The Obama administration leaked the details of Stuxnet for political gain. And most recently, told the world that we’d hacked Al Qaeda’s communications, and just how.

    But instead of getting outraged about that, we have to recap the lies about the Plame mess. Such selective and dishonest outrage.

    Oh, and Manning? 35 is OK. Life would have been better. Death might even have been justified. But 35 is acceptable.

  57. michael reynolds says:


    It’s not about emotion or passion. It’s about the very point of law, which is to ensure that civilization can continue.

    By your lights a Jew in 1940 should have walked to the camp voluntarily since that was the law. In fact, a Jewish father should have turned in his Jewish children since that was the law. And had you been a prosecutor you would have prosecuted that parent for failing to so.

    I know you think you’re being principled. You’re not. You’re being a fanatic. There’a very big difference.

    In the end, if the law is the law no matter how unjust then you’re pushing for the invalidation and destruction of law while imagining yourself as its champion. That’s not rational, it’s faith, it’s adherence to a doctrine regardless of the impact in real life. You make yourself the moral and intellectual equal of the Taliban.

    People like you are far more dangerous than simple law-breakers. Straight up choice between the average criminal and a guy like you in a position of power? Give me the criminal any day. They kill by ones and twos, guys who think like you kill by tens of thousands and millions.

  58. Ernieyeball says:

    @John Peabody: But, because of the war, the US was that needful that they had a flake like Manning working with this data.

    We have not learned much at all since the Viet Nam War have we.

    Under his (President Lyndon Johnson’s Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara) direction, an alternative army was systematically recruited from the ranks of those who had previously been rejected for failing to meet the armed services’ physical and mental requirements. Recruiters swept through urban ghettos and Southern rural back roads, even taking at least one youth with an I.Q. of 62.

  59. Tillman says:

    @michael reynolds: Jeez, way to strawman a dude. He didn’t say the laws were perfect, just they should be applied. Saudi girls not escaping from a fire because of an unjust law sounds irrational on their part; I’d rather go to Saudi prison than burn alive any day.

  60. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Are you actually trying to equate the prosecution of someone like Manning to someone like the Gestapo? Strawmen seem to be the order of the day …

    Germany wouldn’t have prosecuted them, but that doesn’t imply that we couldn’t, or shouldn’t, follow the rule of law in holding them accountable for their actions. Summarily deciding that soldiers are empowered to act as judge, jury and executioner violates every principle of the law that I hold so dear. In short, it isn’t about who they are. It’s about who we are, and we are a people of laws, not vigilantes.

    As I asked earlier, and which you sidestepped, are those same soldiers empowered to come home and execute pedophiles whenever they feel like it? Hell, why have courts to begin with if all you need is armed bands of enforcers empowered to dispense justice according to their moral determinations?

    Allowing US soldiers to mete out vigilante “justice” doesn’t serve the law. It serves to make us no better than them. Allowing them to avoid punishment for doing so sends the message that the law is situational, so you should feel free to discard it whenever you decide that it’s inconvenient or less than expeditious.

    THAT is the true danger to society. The point of having laws is not to ensure that civilization can continue. It is to ensure that civilization exists in the first place.

    This is why I normally sidestep these emotional discussions, because the people pushing the point rarely fail to invoke extremes in support of an emotional position. How you managed to get from me asserting that Manning violated the law and should be punished for doing so to invoking Nazis and calling those who disagree with you fanatics is something that you’d do well to reexamine.

  61. michael reynolds says:


    No, it’s not a straw man. I tend to agree with Harvard on most issues as one could easily see going back through NSA posts. But I offered several historical examples to which his only response was that he isn’t emotional.

    This is the nature of fanatics. They lose the forest while staring hard at twigs.

    The law is a system we invent and we use for the purpose of ensuring the survivability of our civilization. It is not the end point, it is a tool used for a greater purpose. Opting out of morality and basic human decency because you have a system or an ideology or a faith is incompatible with civilization, incompatible with the survival and function of the system of law itself. The rigidity breaks the system.

    It’s also, by the way, baloney. If he was a prosecutor he obviously did not push every possible case that came across his desk. He bargained, he prioritized, he decided when to prosecute and when not. The fact that he (like all prosecutors) prosecuted selectively goes to the flexibility of law, but only insofar as he judges resource management to be a valid basis for selectivity while denying morality as a basis for selectivity.

    In other words, he’d have prosecuted Jews in Germany, but only if he had available staff and resources. If he had enough prosecutors then the Law Is The Law. But if one of the assistant DA’s was taking some time off and the xerox machine was broken, well, then the law is only kinda the law.

    I’m not attacking him, just trying to get him and others to consider whether they want a system where savagery is fine so long as it is codified in law. I don’t think most of us do, and we made that point very forcefully in Nuremberg. But I suspect there’s not a lot of philosophy being taught in law schools. A pity.

  62. michael reynolds says:


    You know perfectly well I’m not equating the Manning case with Nazis. I’m asking how far you push this rigid philosophy. You state as an absolute that “the law is the law” and dismiss as “emotion” any question raised about the extent of that belief system.

    And at the same time you differentiate between laws. You go so far as to prosecute runaway slaves but shy away from condemned Jews. That’s an emotional choice, that’s not “the law is the law.” You set a limit on it while denying you set a limit. And it’s probably self-interested to an extent since you know a number of Jews and don’t know any runaway slaves. So emotion and personal interest are obviously in play, though you deny it.

    I didn’t mean to sidestep anything. The answer is that we obey the law right up to the point where doing so requires us to behave like savages. And then we regretfully disregard the law. That’s not comfortably black and white, it’s complicated and uncertain. The need to deal with complex moral issues is why we have humans in charge and not computers, and why I believe discussions as seemingly esoteric as this one, are useful.

  63. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Opting out of morality and basic human decency because you have a system or an ideology or a faith is incompatible with civilization, incompatible with the survival and function of the system of law itself.

    You are going too far here. I haven’t opted out of anything. I simply asserted that Manning knowingly violated the law. Whatever personal moral justifications he may have had for doing so are immaterial, or are you now asserting that people can leak state secrets whenever their conscience determines that they are serving some higher moral purpose?

    What serves as the dividing line? What Micheal determines to be morally acceptable versus what Micheal finds to be morally objectionable?

    My purpose as a prosecutor was to seek the equilateral enforcement of the law. I pursued the interest of the state in seeing that the law was consistently enforced. I don’t, and didn’t, make judgments about guilt or innocence. We leave that to judges and juries.

    If he was a prosecutor he obviously did not push every possible case that came across his desk. He bargained, he prioritized, he decided when to prosecute and when not. The fact that he (like all prosecutors) prosecuted selectively goes to the flexibility of law, but only insofar as he judges resource management to be a valid basis for selectivity while denying morality as a basis for selectivity.

    And now you are qualifying yourself to speak to the way that I did my job, which is quite frankly pretty arrogant. Was I forced to prioritize some cases over others due to limited resources? Sure, every prosecutor is, but that is not an action. It is a reaction. The fact that I may not have the resources to pursue every case that came before me in no way implies that I have made a moral judgment about the issues in those cases in being forced to decide which ones merit trial and which ones have to be dealt with by other means.

    It quite blatantly implies that other people have made the determination that what I do isn’t important enough to devote sufficient resources to accomplishing it. In an ideal world, I’d have prosecuted every single one of them. I wasn’t given that option.

    The decision not to do so was made for me by others, so stop attributing moral judgments to me or making broad assumptions about my motives.

  64. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Sorry. You brought up Nazis, so I had to wonder what point you were trying to make in reaching for a multitude of extremist examples that have absolutely no connection to the system we have today.

    Or, more pointedly, why you went down that road to begin with in response to an assertion (Manning belongs in prison and was rightfully convicted) that you probably agree with.

    You are right about the philosophy assertion though. There are few things that I detest more than philosophers. I’d even go so far as so say that it borders on contempt. They live in the world of the maybe and the strawman. I deal with the one that is in front of me. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in smoke-filled coffeehouse crap.

  65. michael reynolds says:


    You should get over your detestation of philosophy. Yes, it can be a lot of pointless chin-stroking. But it was philosophy that led to law as we understand it in the first place. There’s a very long history filled with people thinking about how best to organize civilization that led to the notion that law had to apply to all. The idea that law should apply to all, or that law should be made with the consent of the governed, or that law should persist over time despite regime change, are all philosophical/moral beliefs (as well as practical adaptations) worked out in opposition to different philosophical assertions. None of that is a given. For most of human history law was a tool of the strong which the strong were (by law) empowered to alter at will and to apply only to others.

    Any system can be perverted. Human ingenuity in this is unlimited. When that happens — in Sharia, in Nuremberg laws, in Dred Scott and Jim Crow — we are required to ask what matters most? The law, or the purpose of law itself?

    The soldiers who shot down unarmed SS guards at Dachau were not prosecuted. There is no evidence that they went on to lives of crime, or that civilization was damaged by that failure to prosecute. Had they been prosecuted millions of Americans would have concluded that the law is an ass, that the law is unjust. Should we have reacted then by changing the law? To what? To sanction killings of unarmed prisoners? No. That would have been a worse solution. Every system needs a little wiggle room. The human cannot be excluded.

  66. michael reynolds says:


    By the way, I want to say something more general about the above exchange. I wasn’t looking to attack you. My motives in coming here are several. To beat up on idiot racists. To revel in the sound of my own overly-profligate words. And to learn. This would fall into that category. And also, to work ideas that I can use in my job.

    This all touches on a debate I’ve been having with my son, and a possible future writing project. Much to my dismay, upon becoming a father, I had to start thinking about how and what to teach my kids. And then there are my readers (the ones who pay me, not all you people) to whom I inevitably communicate ideas that they rather foolishly take seriously. Lacking any sort of formal education beyond 10th grade (where I learned all my gazintas, as Jethro Bodine would say) I engage in debate as auto-didacticism.

    So, anyway, I have great respect for your intelligence and intellectual acuity. No offense intended. When it’s Jenos or Superdestroyer, then it’s offense intended.

  67. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Not to split hairs, but Jessup was accused of violating a direct order, not of murder. Frankly, I agreed with his position.”

    No matter what the charge was, in the play and the movie it was clear that Jessup ordered the murder of this Marine and then perjured himself. I’m not sure how you can preach about absolute fealty to the rule of law and then come out in favor of this character.

  68. wr says:

    @wr: But to be fair to you and fairer to Sorkin, that’s the genius of the play. What Jessup believes and says is quite honorable. That it is used to justify horrific, dishonorable actions doesn’t negate the truth of his principles.

    I don’t think he’s written anything as morally complex since.

  69. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “The law is a system we invent and we use for the purpose of ensuring the survivability of our civilization. It is not the end point, it is a tool used for a greater purpose. ”

    It has always been my understanding that the law is a system we invent for the purpose of achieving justice, not for achieving the law itself.

  70. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Excuse me, but HarvardLaw believes in the rule of law…. It seems a great number of you don’t believe a “rule of law” exists. Your problem is not with him (if it is, well, Dick Cheney thanks you) but with the way the law is applied.

    HL thinks the law should be applied equally. Who can disagree with that?

  71. David M says:


    HarvardLaw said following the “rule of law” even for the runaway slave act was the correct decision, so I think there’s plenty of reason to pile on.

  72. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    If Manning engaged in an act of civil disobedience (as seems to be the thread line here–at least as I see it, the other being “if my political enemied don’t get punished, no one should!”) he needs to serve the time sentenced. It’s the payment for an act of civil disobedience. When did we come to the conclusion that people who break laws to show the flaws thereof should escape punishment? Yes, that would be nice, but it will lead to everyone standing before magistrates claiming civil disobedience as their motive.

  73. bill says:

    he didn’t just “release classified data” because he was “gender confused”- is he saying we shouldn’t allow other “potentially gender confused people” to serve in intelligence level positions in the military? he’s saying we shouldn’t have gays in there at all?! read between the lines and realize he’s an idiot who endangered others for his own self loathing/self serving agenda. 35 yrs is too short, and he needs to be abused- it’s probably like foreplay to him.

  74. @michael reynolds: Scooter Libby’s sentence is not the reason I’m astounded by your condemnation of Bradley Manning’s sentence.

  75. @michael reynolds: You absolutely eviscerated Snowden, Michael. You expressed your loathing for him and what he did in the clearest possible terms.

    And as for his “world tour of authoritarian, oppressive and anti-American nations in his quest for. . . well, whatever the hell he thinks he’s up to,” perhaps you should spare Snowden your anger and direct it instead on those in the government who charged him with espionage in the first place, and then threatened every nation who even hinted at sympathy for him with the direst consequences — including forcing down the plane Venezuela’s president was on. I doubt Snowden has any innate desire to resettle in Russia. The Obama admin did not leave him much choice.

  76. bill says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: it was bolivia’s plane, and it’ wasn’t forced anywhere- it’s a rumor. snowden’s another douche who will die soon or wind up in a US jail. traitors are traitors, even in the cyber age- and the wonderful world of obama’s “change” bs will not change that. i always advise those who think we suck to travel abroad and see just how bad we suck, 99% of the time you’ll kiss the ground on arrival. the 1% is when you don’t remember how bad they all suck.

  77. glasnost says:

    He intentionally released the information into the wild at a time when the country was fighting two wars. The enemy therefore has that information.

    Dissapointing, even contemptible; but not unexpected – James is sober, moderate, and uninflammatory, but that doesn’t mean he actually thinks about issues. He’s not thinking here either, just operating on his own moral code.

    And his moral code is a problem. Our classification system is deeply screwed up. Not a little bit screwed up, but utterly, wildly, absolutely without any meaningful check or balance whatsoever in a deeply harmful way. Sometimes it just wastes billions of dollars. Other times, it allows despicable crimes to take place. This has been acknowledged for almost a decade now and what do we have in reform? nothing.. They don’t care. They never will care. You would have to fire almost the entire population of the defense-side executive branch and replace them to get a desire to change – and not a random replacement, but the way bush fired the US attorneys. This will never happen.

    Our democracy is threatened by the mindless obedience of bad and stupid, selectively enforced laws to a much greater extent than it is threatened by grunts standing on conscience. The legal use of power in our government is out of control and it’s not going to reform voluntarily. Julian Assange was right. The system must be made unworkable. To do so is a moral good, and to prosecute this act – which, in this case, didn’t endanger americans at all – is a moral evil. The law is not morality. Those who have confused it with morality may be well-intentioned, but they are making a serious mistake in terms of the country’s best interests.
    Just because total obedience and perfect prosecution is better than anarchy does not make it the best possible balance. In real life, for 2000 years, disobedience of the law has been a method by which governments are forced to actually fix bad laws. Without it, black people would be drinking at separate water fountains.

    It is deeply unwise to say “law broken, end of story”. These things should be judged on their pragmatic consequences, and it’s scary to see how few people are arguing that.

  78. R.Dave says:

    @James Joyner:

    PFCs don’t get to decide what secrets to share with the enemy.

    James, I’m curious if you consider that an absolute rule or a contingent one. If the secrets in question were more unambiguously horrible – e.g. clear evidence of systematic torture, chemical/biological weapons being used, deliberate targeting of civilians while posing as the enemy as part of a psy-op, numerous extrajudicial assassinations of US citizens on US soil, etc. – would you still believe a PFC’s duty is to keep those secrets and that he should be severely punished for failing to do so?

  79. michael reynolds says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg:

    There are any number of people who I don’t like or of whom I don’t approve that I nevertheless do not want to see imprisoned. The entire Republican party for example.

    You are reversing cause and effect. Snowden ran to China before he was charged with anything. Daniel Ellsberg, you may recall, did not run off to a totalitarian state to release the Pentagon Papers. He did what he felt he had to do, and then he faced the consequences. His trial revealed gross misconduct by the government in collecting evidence against him and the trial went nowhere.

    Ellsberg was a man of principle. Snowden, in my opinion, is not.

  80. James Joyner says:

    @R.Dave: The rule is absolute. At least two caveats:

    1. A soldier seeing something that he genuinely thinks illegal or immoral has both a chain of command and Congress as legitimate reporting venues. I don’t think Manning availed himself of either.

    2. I would be much more sympathetic to Manning if he had engaged in true whistleblowing. That is, if he had simply released, for example, the “Collateral Damage” video, I wouldn’t think him deserving of prison time even though I’d strip him of his clearance. Instead, he dumped classified information willy-nilly.

  81. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    No worries. You raised some valid, although admittedly esoteric, points. Yesterday proved to be a perfect storm of crap (external to this discussion) that put me in a decidedly poisonous frame of mind. I should have heeded my inner angel and detached long before I did.

    No offense taken, and hopefully none given as well.

  82. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Um, no. Murder requires the intent to kill, among other elements, under the UCMJ. Jessup’s actions don’t fit any of the required elements.

    Jessup ordered the training of the lad using methods that were in contravention of a direct order from HQMC not to utilize them.

    Kendrick perjured himself. Jessup didn’t. He violated a direct order.

  83. Pharoah Narim says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I will have the upmost respect for your position if you answer from the point of view of YOURSELF being a runaway slave. Its quite easy to say “the law is the law” when are talking about prosecuting someone….being in the power seat. If the “law is the law” I take it you wouldn’t escape if enslaved? Is the law the law when you’re not in the power seat?

  84. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: My position exactly. Im fine with moral objections and civil disobedience. But they do and should carry a price. Why people think they shouldn’t is beyond me.

  85. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    If you are the subject of an unjust law, of course you are going to try to resist that law. It goes without saying.

    It also goes without saying that you subject yourself to the consequences of violating it if you fail.

    I was speaking from the perspective of a prosecutor. My job wasn’t to evaluate the moral implications of laws. We leave that to the judges / juries who pass judgment and the voters who exert political will to effect change with respect to the laws. The moral implications of unjust laws are their concern, and I would hope that they would act accordingly.

    That said though, again my job wasn’t to exercise that moral evaluation. My job was to represent the interests of my client, the United States, without passion or prejudice. If my client has a case, I have a duty to take that case to trial, REGARDLESS of whether I personally consider the law I’m enforcing to be objectionable.

    Because to do otherwise not only violates the duty I have to my client, it also puts me into the position of subverting the expressed will of the legislature and the people who voted for them. Were I to take it upon myself to do so, I would deserve to be disbarred.

    I took (and take) that duty very seriously, and I tend to be repelled by arguments that subverting the law in the name of a believed higher purpose is justifiable. Because people can justify just about anything on that basis.

  86. Pharoah Narim says:

    @HarvardLaw92: From that vantage point I can respect the argurment you made. I do believe however that sometimes life puts us in a postion where falling on one’s sword rather than complying with the law IS our duty. Obviously those are extreme cases to speculate about and certainly not this case…but lightning does strike and adminstrators of the law and regular joes find themselves faced with cases not so black and white. In those cases, its fitting to do one’s duty and accept the consequences be that disbarrment, court martial, jail, etc. That’s how I see it anyway… but like I said–I can understand your point within the constraints of that particular vantage point.

  87. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Kendrick perjured himself. Jessup didn’t. ”

    Go back and watch the movie again. Jessup did perjure himself, claiming that he had ordered the dead marine off the base and denying that he had sanctioned the code red. That’s why there’s so much stunned silence when he admits what he did.

  88. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Ok, I haven’t watched the movie in some time, but accepting that you’re correct, and he committed perjury, he still didn’t commit murder. We’re splitting hairs over minutiae while missing the broader fact, which is this: The basic problem with his actions is that HQMC issued a direct order not to sanction intra-company disciplinary / corrective tactics, and Jessup violated those direct orders by ordering the “code red”.

    You are injecting your personal distaste for the tactics utilized, and while they may seem brutal to you or others who evaluate them from the perspective of a civilian, they don’t remotely rise to the level of murder under the UCMJ.