So the 35-year sentence Manning got this week was leniency itself. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has already been held, Manning could be out in about 6½ years, according to his defense attorney David Coombs.
And in the end, the documents he gave to Wikileaks did little more than put fellow soldiers and others at risk. Manning digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while working in Iraq in 2010.
Manning also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
Manning’s lawyer argued his client had been full of youthful idealism and “really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.”
But it was shown that al-Qaida used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video and some of the material was found in Osama bin Laden’s hideout after he was killed.
Government witnesses also testified that the leaks endangered U.S. intelligence sources, some of whom were moved to other countries for their safety.
Dubbing Manning a “whistleblower” then — someone who exposes government or corporate wrongdoing with an eye to righting a wrong or bringing lawbreakers to justice — is a stretch.
What Snowden did, however, was much more calculated and useful. Though the programs he exposed were legal and approved by Congress and the judiciary, the scope of the internal spying his documents exposed was a much-needed shock to the system.
Yes, what Snowden did was criminal. And yes, what Manning did was criminal. But that’s where the comparisons end.