WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning kept his composure Wednesday when he was sentenced to 35 years and comforted his own legal team when they broke down in tears, his lawyer said.
David Coombs, the civilian who led Manning’s team, said his client was stoic but he and other lawyers cried when they gathered in private soon after the judgment was read out.
“Myself and others were in tears, because this means a lot to us,” Coombs said.
He said Manning looked at him and said: “It’s OK. It’s all right, don’t worry about it. I know you did your best. It’s OK. I’m gonna be OK. I’m gonna get through this.”
Coombs added: “I’m in a position where my client is cheering me up. That shouldn’t happen, but he is a resilient young man. If nothing else, he is resilient, for sure.”
Coombs’s remarks came at a press conference near the Fort Meade military base where Manning was tried, convicted and finally sentenced.
The lawyer confirmed that next week he would begin the process of seeking a presidential pardon for the soldier.
President Barack Obama, Coombs said, should “at the very least commute his sentence to time served.”
“This fight is not over. My representation of him at a court martial may end but my representation of him in ensuring that he one day, and one day very soon, walks out of Fort Leavenworth has only just begun,” said Coombs of Manning.
“Hopefully the president will do the right thing,” Coombs later added, noting that because Manning’s sentence is higher than 30 years he will become eligible for parole after serving 10 years in custody.
He then read out a statement on Manning’s behalf in which the soldier reiterated that he felt he did the right thing in handing over hundreds of thousands of secret US diplomatic cables and battlefield reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to WikiLeaks, the website headed by Julian Assange.
“It was never my intent to hurt anyone,” he said. “I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.”
In regards to his immediate future, Manning added: “If you deny my request for a pardon I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society.”
Having already spent more than three years in jail, this would mean the process of seeking parole could start in less than seven years from now, Coombs said.
He also warned that Wednesday’s outcome had sent a “chilling” warning to every journalist about how those in power could now pursue journalists and people who leak official information.
Asked specifically about Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor wanted in the United States for revealing the powerful National Security Agency’s call data gathering operations, Coombs said: “If he were my client at this point I would tell him that the current environment is not one that is friendly to whistleblowers.”