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21 Aug, 2013 17:50

Manning 'ready to pay price for living in free society,' asks Obama for pardon

The lead attorney for Army Private Bradley Manning told the media on Wednesday that as early as next week he will ask US President Barack Obama to pardon his client.

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Three hours after a military judge sentenced PVT Manning to 35 years in prison for disclosing sensitive government documents, attorney David Coombs said the appeals process will begin in a matter of days.

“I will file a request,” Coombs said in a Wednesday afternoon presser, “a request that the president pardon [former] PFC. Manning, or at the very least commute his sentence to time served.”

That request, Coombs said, includes in part a statement from Manning himself.

“I understand that my actions violated the law,” Coombs read the soldier’s statement. “I regret that my actions hurt or harmed the US. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people.”

Manning and his counsel will ask the White House to remove the 35-year sentence handed down early Wednesday by Army Col. Denise Lind at a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland. Should that request be refused, however, Manning wrote, “I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price for living in a free society.”

U.S. soldier Bradley Manning's defense attorney David Coombs speaks during a news conference in Hanover, Maryland, following the sentencing of Manning at nearby Fort Meade August 21, 2013.(Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

The solder also said in his statement that he chose to disclose classified material to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks “out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in.”

Manning was convicted last month on charges of espionage, theft and computer fraud for sharing diplomatic State Department cables, field reports from the Iraq and Afghan wars and other sensitive material. In all, Manning shared hundreds of thousands of files.

The disclosures made by Manning began shortly after he deployed to Iraq in late 2009, where he was assigned to serve as an intelligence analyst at a post outside of Baghdad. In the statement read by his attorney on Wednesday, Manning wrote, “It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing.”

Quoting late historian Howard Zinn, Manning added, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

“Whenever we kill innocent civilians,” Manning wrote in his own words, “...we elect to hind behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.”

Should the pardon request be dismissed by the White House, Coombs said his client can go before a clemency board in as soon as three years. According to Coombs, parole will become a possibility after seven years of confinement, and Manning will be eligible to plead his case every year after.

U.S. President Barack Obama.(Reuters / Larry Downing)

Col. Lind credited Manning with roughly three-and-a-half years for time already served and the conditions he endured during that confinement. That block of time will be taken off the 35-year sentence. Manning was also demoted from Private First Class to Private.

Government prosecutors asked Lind to hand out a sentence of no fewer than 60 years, and the soldier faced a maximum of 90. During Wednesday’s press conference, Coombs said the prosecution previously offered Manning a deal that would have confined him for longer than what Lind elected to dish out, but it would have required the soldier to testify on the stand.

“There were early discussion on a pretrial agreement that were far worse than his outcome here today,” Coombs said. “They were offering a sentence that exceeded what he received today. and part of that would be to cooperate and testify.”

Coombs said Manning is likely on his way already to a facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be entered into general population in roughly a month.