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WikiLeaks source Manning sentenced to 35 years

US Army soldier Bradley Manning arrives at a US military court facility on August 21, 2013
US Army soldier Bradley Manning arrives alongside military officials at a US military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail and dishonorably discharged Wednes

US Army Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail Wednesday for handing over to WikiLeaks files that formed the biggest breach of official secrets in American history.

Manning could apply for parole and be freed within a decade, after a months-long trial that laid bare the scale of the 25-year-old soldier's access to government information.

Wednesday's sentence was slightly more than half the 60 year term that prosecutors had pushed for.

Manning appeared ashen-faced moments before he heard his fate in a courtroom at Fort Meade military base in Maryland, close to the US capital.

Military judge Colonel Denise Lind delivered her verdict in a less than two-minute statement in which she said the soldier would be demoted from Private First Class to Private E1 status, and later dishonorably discharged.

Bradley Manning, condemed to 35 years in prison
A graphic on Bradley Manning. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail Wednesday for handing over to WikiLeaks files that formed the biggest breach of official secrets in American history.

Under military law Manning is eligible for parole on completion of one third of his sentence. His jail time will be shortened by a total of 1,293 days on account of the more than three years he has already served, which means he could be freed in nine years.

A video link to the courtroom cut out as soon as Lind stopped speaking, but several Manning supporters were seen in tears outside immediately following the sentencing announcement.

Civil liberties groups condemned the sentence, but WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website headed by Julian Assange, hailed it as a "significant strategic victory."

Manning was convicted of espionage and other crimes last month, having earlier admitted being the source of hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and confidential US diplomatic cables.

Publication of the documents caused deep embarrassment to the United States and rankled American allies, prompting warnings from US officials that troops and intelligence sources had been jeopardized.

US soldier Bradley Manning arrives alongside military officials at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013
US soldier Bradley Manning arrives alongside military officials at a US military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013.

The 35-year jail term will be considered especially important as another leaker -- the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, currently in Russia -- is wanted in the United States on espionage charges, having disclosed details of the National Security Agency's secret electronic monitoring operations.

Army lawyers had pressed for a much longer sentence, arguing that significantly more jail time would send a message to people contemplating the theft of classified information.

Lead defense attorney David Coombs, however, appealed for leniency for his client. He said Manning had expressed remorse, cooperated with the court and deserved a chance to have a family and one day walk free.

Coombs is scheduled to speak to reporters at 1:30 pm (1730 GMT) and outline the next steps in the soldier's case. Under military law Manning's sentence will automatically be reviewed in the Army Court of Criminal Appeal.

Manning was a junior intelligence analyst at a US base near Baghdad when he handed over the data -- about 700,000 documents -- to WikiLeaks.

He was arrested in Iraq in 2010 and has since been in military custody.

Supporters of US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning leave Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013
Supporters of US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning leave after attending his sentencing hearing at a US military court facility at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013.

The years-long legal process that finally culminated in his conviction and sentencing offered an astonishing view inside the young soldier's mind before, during and after he was deployed in Iraq.

The most notorious material that he brought to light was a video file, dubbed "Collateral Murder" by WikiLeaks, showing graphic cockpit footage of two US Apache attack helicopters opening fire and killing 12 people in Baghdad in 2007.

Manning, a hero to supporters who regard him as a whistleblower who lifted the lid on America's foreign policy, openly condemned the remarks of the pilots, who had branded the victims "dead bastards."

Though found guilty of 20 of the 22 offenses leveled against him, Manning was cleared of the most serious charge -- "aiding the enemy," chiefly Al-Qaeda. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for Manning's nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday's sentence was sad for Manning but also sad "for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate."

"When a soldier who shared information with the press and public is punished far more harshly than others who tortured prisoners and killed civilians, something is seriously wrong with our justice system," they added in a statement.

Expert witnesses testified during the sentencing phase of Manning's trial that the soldier was confused about his gender and sexuality and under enormous psychological stress at the time he committed the leaks.

Manning also apologized. He told Lind during a hearing last week: "I'm sorry that my actions have hurt people and have hurt the United States."

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