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22 Aug, 2013 01:50

Manning refused to plead guilty in exchange for longer sentence

Manning refused to plead guilty in exchange for longer sentence

Bradley Manning was offered and refused a plea deal from US military prosecutors that would have seen the soldier imprisoned for longer than the 35-year sentence handed down by a military judge this week.

Manning’s lead defense attorney, David Coombs, announced during a press conference that an offer was previously on the table. 

Part of that would be to cooperate in testifying, so obviously we didn’t do that,” he said. 

He refused to elaborate any further, citing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with government prosecutors. 

But in December 2011, Coombs suggested that the government was attempting to force Manning into a plea bargain and use him as a witness against Julian Assange - the WikiLeaks founder who published the 700,000 diplomatic cables, battlefield reports, and combat video disclosed by Manning. 

If the Department of Justice got their way, they would get a plea deal in this case, and my client would be named as one of the witnesses to go after Julian Assange,” Coombs said in court. 

Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, is the subject of a current grand jury inquiry in connection with his role in the case.

The idea that WikiLeaks or Julian Assange or anyone else forced my client to do anything, or asked him to do anything, is just pure fabrication,” Coombs said after Manning’s sentence.

Prosecutors equated Assange as a co-conspirator throughout the Manning trial. The whistleblower’s lawyer, Michael Ratner, told reporters that he believes there could be a sealed indictment against the Ecuadorian embassy’s seemingly permanent resident, who has also been charged with sexual assault in Sweden.

This should be a real wake-up call for journalists: The US has been relentless in its pursuit of Assange,” Ratner said. 
WikiLeaks responded to the Manning verdict by decrying what Assange perceived as military vengeance, saying “the only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning’s humiliation.” 

Coombs said that Manning, for his part, was stoic as the sentence was read aloud. The 25-year-old, who will serve his time at Fort Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas, was actually comforting the defense team after his fate was announced. 

He looks to me and he says, ‘It’s OK. It’s alright. I know you did your best. I’m going to be OK. I’m going to get through this,’” Coombs said. 

Coombs and his fellow attorneys plan to petition US President Obama to pardon Manning, or commute his sentence. 

The fight is not over,” Coombs said. “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.”

Correction: This article previously and erroneously suggested prosecutors offered Pfc. Manning a deal that would have sentenced the soldier to less than the 35 years ultimately dished out; Coombs said Wednesday that the deal would have included a sentence that exceeded the one determined in court this week.