Is Bradley Manning’s Sentence Too Harsh or Just Right?

Respondents in the Slate/SurveyMonkey snap poll wanted Manning to do serious time. Did the judge get it right?


Bradley Manning enters the courtroom for Day 4 of his court martial at Fort Meade, Md. June 10.

Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

Bradley Manning, the Army private who leaked a trove of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison—the prosecution was hoping for a 60-year sentence, and Manning faced a maximum of 90 years. In 2010, Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of military documents, including 250,000 diplomatic cables and footage from a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad where American soldiers inadvertently killed two Reuters employees. Soon after WikiLeaks began publishing the classified materials, computer hacker Adrian Lamo identified Manning to the FBI as the culprit. While Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy on July 30, he was found guilty of espionage and a bevy of other charges.

Is Bradley Manning a hero or a traitor? Did he deserve to go to prison for the rest of his life? That’s what respondents were asked in a snap poll conducted by Slate and SurveyMonkey about the Manning case. (The poll was conducted between August 1–2. Information on respondents is available here. More information about SurveyMonkey Audience is here.) When asked how long of a sentence Manning should serve, respondents were polarized. Most said Manning deserved a sentence of “more than 20 years” in prison—the longest option in the poll—which aligns with the sentence handed down by the judge. However, the next two most popular responses were between one and ten years, and 13 percent of respondents said Manning should not be sentenced to prison at all.

Though split on what the judge’s sentence should be, most respondents agreed that Manning was in the wrong. When asked if Manning should have disclosed the documents to WikiLeaks, 60 percent said no, 18 percent said yes, and 20 percent were unsure. Respondents had a similar reaction to a question asking how heroic Manning’s actions were—57 percent  said he was “not at all heroic” versus 43 percent who said his actions were at least “slightly” heroic. But just because most people don’t think Manning is a hero doesn’t mean they think he’s a traitor, either. In fact, respondents were almost evenly split among the five choices ranging from “extremely traitorous” to “not at all traitorous.”

Last, respondents were asked to put themselves in Manning’s boots and answer whether they would leak thousands of military documents if they were in his position. Of the 413 respondents, 65 percent said they would be “not at all likely” to disclose the documents.

Manning has said he leaked the documents in an effort to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it relates to Iraq and Afghanistan.” He certainly succeeded in sparking a debate—about the U.S. government’s retribution against those who leak classified information. But, as this poll shows, many people still value  the secrecy of military operations over the public’s right to know about those operations.