By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – A U.S. military judge reduced potential prison time for Private First Class Bradley Manning to 90 years from 136 years on Tuesday by ruling that some sentences for leaking secret files to WikiLeaks should be merged.
Court-martial Judge Colonel Denise Lind convicted Manning, 25, last week on 19 criminal counts, including espionage, for providing more than 700,000 secret files to WikiLeaks in the largest unauthorized release of secret data in U.S. history.
In response to defense attorneys’ objections that the prosecution was “overreaching” in seeking separate sentences for all the espionage charges, she found that some counts resulted from the same offenses and should be merged to avoid “an unreasonable multiplication of charges.”
The defense acknowledged Manning downloaded diplomatic and military files on different days, but said he grouped many of them into single files before transmitting them in 2010 to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency website.
Prosecutors argued that each download should be a separate sentencing offense.
The judge granted only the part of the defense team’s request to merge the offenses and said that for most of the espionage charges resulting from the transmissions, “there is no evidence of prosecutorial overreaching.”
The sentencing phase began last week and is expected to last at least until Friday.
Manning’s lawyers have portrayed him as naive, but well intentioned. They argue the soldier’s aim was to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military policy, not to harm anyone.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Leslie Gevirtz)