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WikiLeaks Case Turns To Sentencing: Manning Faces Up To 136 Years

FORT MEADE, Md. (WJZ) -- He's been convicted for his role in the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history.

And Wednesday, a military judge at Fort Meade hears testimony on how long Army Private Bradley Manning should spend in a military prison.

Derek Valcourt has more on the punishment Manning could be facing.

His supporters believe the government is trying to make an example out of him. It's possible he could spend decades locked up in a military prison.

Prosecutors plan to call as many as 20 witnesses during the sentencing phase of the case against 25-year-old Private First Class Bradley Manning.

Many of those witnesses are expected to testify in closed hearings about the damage to national security Manning caused by releasing 700,000 pages of highly-classified information to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Manning copied thousands of secret diplomatic cables and battlefield logs while he worked in Baghdad as a low-level intelligence analyst.

Some of that data -- including video of a 2007 shooting in Baghdad when an Apache helicopter gunship mistakenly opened fire on civilians--became an embarrassment to the government, which labeled Manning a traitor.

Tuesday, military prosecutors won 20 guilty verdicts against him on charges of theft and espionage.

Retired Army Major Mike Lyons, CBS news consultant, says this case sets a new precedent.

"I think the overall message is they will continue to go after whistleblowers and people who believe they can impart their morals or values on the system," Lyons said.

Manning's sentencing defense will likely focus around his motives. He said he hoped to provoke a debate about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to expose military bloodlust and government deceit.

"This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower in the United States," said Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is among those who say Manning is a hero and not a traitor.

"It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism," Assange said.

It is possible Manning could testify in his own defense at the sentencing hearings happening at Fort Meade over the next few weeks.

Manning faces up to 136 years in military prison for his crimes.

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