Bradley Manning: ‘I Will Recover From This … This Is Just a Stage in My Life’


Bradley Manning: ‘I Will Recover From This … This Is Just a Stage in My Life’

By Alexa O’Brien
August 21st 20131:58 pm


Sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning has vowed to stay positive, his defense lawyers tells Alexa O’Brien in an exclusive interview.

FORT MEADE, MARYLAND—Just after receiving a sentence of 35 years in prison for transmitting hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and U.S. Army reports to WikiLeaks in 2010, Bradley Manning was in a surprisingly “cheerful mood,” according to his attorney.

“He said, ‘Hey, it’s OK. It’s all right. I know you did everything you could for me. Don’t cry. Be happy. It’s fine. This is just a stage in my life. I am moving forward. I will recover from this,’” his defense lawyer David Coombs said in an interview conducted immediately after the sentencing.

Presiding military judge Col. Denise Lind sternly handed down the sentence to a packed courtroom, stating only, “Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, this court sentences you to be reduced to the grade of Private E-1, to forfeit all pay and allowances, to be confined for 35 years, and to be dishonorably discharged from the service.”

Coombs was stunned. “I look at the sentence, and I can’t believe that was actually the sentence he received,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is a good young man who did what he thought was morally right and for the right reasons, and he was sentenced the way we would sentence somebody who committed murder—the way we would sentence somebody who molested a child. That is the sentence he received.”

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Twitter responded strongly in Bradley Manning’s behalf when the sentence was handed down.

Despite the clear devastation among supporters of Manning, however, Coombs said that the defendant was in good spirits. “Interestingly, Manning was the one who was cheering everyone up,” he said.

While perhaps proportional with the Information Age that Manning was born into, the disclosures were unprecedented in scale and scope and resulted in the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source.

At trial and sentencing, the prosecution cast Manning as a traitor who was indiscriminately harvesting information for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in willful disregard of the safety of military personnel and the national security of the United States. They asked the judge to put Manning away for 60 years: “He betrayed the United States, and for that betrayal he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement.”

Manning was convicted on six espionage charges on the standard of probable harm from the release. In total, he was found guilty of 20 offenses, including espionage, “exceeding authorized access,” stealing government property, and the newfangled offense of “wanton publication.” That charge has never been used in military law and is not tied to any existing federal criminal violation or punitive article under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

He was acquitted, however, of “aiding the enemy,” one of two offenses under the code that apply to any people and not just members of the military. Lind ruled that Manning’s good-faith motive and any actual damage (or lack of damage) were not relevant and thus relegated to the sentencing phase.

The question remains if and when the Department of Justice intends to unseal any possible indictment against Assange, editor in chief of WikiLeaks.

Much of the court record—the largest of any in military history—was hidden from the public. The public only got access 1,103 days into the legal proceeding. Because so much of the critical parts of the trial were conducted in closed sessions and obscurity, the public has been largely unclear on the actual impact of the leaks. Prosecution witnesses—government employees and federal contractors—testified in open session that no death resulted as a result of the leaks. But the prosecution presented evidence of mitigation efforts and temporary disruptions as well as future of possible threats to military operations and diplomatic efforts.

Asked what the worst damage from the leaks was, Coombs said, “I personally … I think the most damage done was the sentence that my client received. If you are talking about damage from a standpoint of what he released—embarrassment. Embarrassment was the most damage.”

A congressional official who had been briefed by the State Department in late 2010 and early 2011 told Reuters, “The administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.” The revelations, the congressional aide said, “were embarrassing, but not damaging.”

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In a press conference after the sentencing, Bradley Manning’s lawyer read a statement from Manning himself. “Sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society,” wrote Manning.

“He was sentenced the way we would sentence somebody who committed murder.”

Manning will immediately appeal for clemency to the court-martial convening authority, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of the Military District of Washington, who can dismiss any guilty findings and reduce the sentence. Buchanan cannot, however, reverse a finding of not guilty or increase Manning’s sentence. After a review by Buchanan, Manning’s case will be automatically appealed to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Manning’s lead civilian defense counsel also announced that he is applying for a presidential pardon for his client. The application to President Obama will be joined by a partnership between Amnesty International and the Bradley Manning Support Network on to commute his sentence to time served.

Obama said in April 2011, “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. [Manning] broke the law.” Manning’s defense team characterized Obama’s comments as unlawful command influence. They also sought and were denied the opportunity to depose the president.

Manning is expected to serve his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, where he has been in pretrial confinement since April 2011. Prior to that, Manning was held in pretrial confinement at Marine Corp Base Quantico Brig for nine months. U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Méndez called his treatment at the Quantico Brig “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” Manning was forced to strip and remain on a suicide-risk regime against the recommendations of Brig mental-health professionals. Lind ruled that a portion of his time at Quantico was unlawful, but granted Manning only 112 days of credit on his sentence for it. Manning’s sentence of 35 years will also be reduced by 1,293 days for time already served.

Despite being placed in pretrial confinement longer than any accused awaiting court-martial, Lind ruled that the government did not violate Manning’s right to a speedy trial. (Many witnesses during the motions phase of the trial concerning Manning’s unlawful treatment at Quantico could not remember events clearly because they were so long ago.)

Manning directed defense counsel to engage with the press only using text-based media and to be as “accurate as possible, and try to get to the actual topic, and try to be as factual as possible, and try to be as neutral as possible.”

Manning ultimately opted to be tried by military judge alone instead of a panel of officers and enlisted personnel. During the pretrial, the prosecution blocked Manning’s defense from adding questions to a questionnaire for panel members intended to determine potential bias toward gay and/or transgender people.

The Washington Post reported recently that Judge Lind was recently promoted to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, where Manning’s case will automatically be appealed.

The defense strategy at trial was as much about mitigating as acquitting. During sentencing, the defense emphasized that Manning was young, naive, and good intentioned. They called a forensic psychiatrist who testified that “Manning was under the impression that his leaked information was going to really change how the world views the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and future wars, actually.”

Manning’s defense sought an appropriate sentence that would enable him to still have a life, asking the judge not to “rob him of his youth” and adding that Manning “is a young man who certainly, at this time, was, in fact, young—was, in fact, naive as to the second and third effects, but certainly was good intentioned.” The defense ended by saying, “Manning cared about human life. He was a humanist. His biggest crime was that he cared about loss of life that he was seeing.”

When asked if Manning received a fair trial, Coombs said, “The perception is no. He didn’t receive a fair trial and that should be problematic for people. That should be problematic for our military, and hopefully that will be problematic for the president of the United States, and he should do something about it.”


2013: Mormon Church Finally Says Dark Skin is Not a Sign of God’s Curse | Alternet

English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of ...
English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mormon Church Finally Says Dark Skin is Not a Sign of God’s Curse | Alternet.


Published on Alternet (

By Valerie Tarico [2]

Mormon Church Finally Says Dark Skin is Not a Sign of God’s Curse

December 12, 2013 |

As of Friday, Dec. 6, the Mormon Church has officially renounced [3] the doctrine that brown skin is a punishment from God.

In the “Book of Mormon,” (not the musical but the actual sacred text) dark skin is a sign of God’s curse, while white skin is a sign of his blessing. The book tells of a conflict between two lost tribes of Israel, the Lamanites and Nephites, who journeyed to the New World and made their home in Mesoamerica. The Lamanites sinned against God, and “because of their iniquity. …the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21). Later, when Lamanites became Christians, “their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (3 Nephi 2:15).

These verses were thought to explain the dark skin of Native Americans. In 1960, Church apostle Spencer W. Kimball suggested at the general conference that Native Americans who converted to Mormonism were gradually becoming lighter skinned:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today… The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather… These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.

The blackness of Africans derived from an even more ancient stain, Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in the Genesis story.

Joseph Smith taught that black people are cursed as “sons of Cain” but also could be saved. Brigham Young, his successor, was harsher: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10). Since dark skin was a divine punishment for sin (rather like Eve’s curse, which causes women to suffer in childbirth), black men could not be ordained into the priesthood of the LDS church, a designation open to any white male [4]age 12 and older who is “morally upright.”

During the Civil Rights Movement, the LDS Church came under pressure as such teachings became offensive to a growing number of people. Simultaneously, the church expanded its missionary efforts into Brazil where almost everyone has some slave ancestors. How pureblooded did a light-skinned man have to be to receive ordination or enter the temple? In this context, Spencer Kimball, who was now Church president, announced a new revelation in 1978, and black men were granted the priesthood. But in Mormon sacred texts, the old racism remained.

Over the years, ordinary Mormons and church leaders have struggled with this heritage. One racist passage in the scripture—2 Nephi 30:6 —has simply been fixed by Mormon authorities. Originally reading that conversion to Christianity creates a “white and delightsome people,” in 1981 the Church adopted a variant that now reads, “a pure and delightsome people.” (Joseph Smith had used each of the phrases.)

Now, with 2013 winding down, Church authorities have decided to tackle the problem head-on. In a 2000 word document [5] posted Friday, officials emphatically renounced the racist teachings of the past:

The church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavour or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Much of what is in the new document has been said before by Mormon scholars attempting to reconcile modern ethics with Church history. But this new statement is noteworthy because it comes from the Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Unlike many other forms of Christianity, the Mormon hierarchy maintains strict control over doctrinal evolution and public statements. A group called the “Correlation Committee” carefully reviews official documents and even Sunday school curricula to ensure consistency in teachings, emphasis and tone. Consequently, this document can be seen as part of an official trend toward greater openness and transparency about Mormon history.

Increasingly, Mormon authorities are adopting the stance that the best way to meet criticism is with good humor and well-framed candor. After expressing big disapproval [6] over “Big Love [7],” Church leaders shifted strategies and met the hit musical, the “The Book of Mormon,” with bemused acceptance [8], praising it “for really nailing the Mormon sweetness, niceness, and sense of do-gooderness.” They filled theater programs with their own advertisements.

Thanks to a number of factors, including the Romney presidential run, Mormons see an opportunity to move from being perceived as a fringe “cult” to being recognized as a thread in the tapestry of Christianity. In an effort to reassure evangelical voters during his presidential candidacy, Mitt Romney inserted the phrase “the same god” into his domestic policy debate against Barack Obama. Church leaders have since issued a communiqué addressing the question of whether Mormons are Christians (answer: yes). Even some LDS quirks seem to be turning into positives. Shifting sexual mores have made Mormon polygamy and sacred undergarments [9] a matter of slightly kinky fascination rather than Puritan disgust.

Friday’s document from Mormon headquarters explains [5] even the Church’s history of racism in terms that say, “we are simply part of American culture”:

The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion.

Efforts to mainstream Mormon religion are taking many forms. Over the course of 2012, the LDS Church promoted “I’m a Mormon,” a multi-million dollar [10] marketing campaign about ordinary Americans who are also ordinary Mormons. The Church is reaching out to young people, and the current emphasis on civil rights can be seen as one strong way of allying with youth culture. That said, as former Mormon Garrett Amini explains [11], getting the Mormon hierarchy to embrace other civil rights like real equality for women and gays may present an even bigger theological challenge than equality for blacks.

Also, the question of whether Mormon beliefs will be accepted as mainstream has challenges of its own. Per Amini, materials approved by the Correlation Committee “have significantly de-emphasized the more controversial doctrines in recent years.” Dr. Tony Nugent, retired professor of religious studies, agrees. In 2012, Nugent compiled a list of twelve teachings that Mormon authorities tend to downplay [12], each of which is, in one way or another, dubious. A quick read suggests they also are far from mainstream.

With Friday’s clear and authoritative repudiation of racism, the list [12] is down to eleven. May the process of wrestling and growth continue.


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The Horror Every Day: Why Police Brutality Goes Unpunished

English: A 1952 Ford Customline patrol car tha...
English: A 1952 Ford Customline patrol car that was in use by the Houston Police Department (HPD). It is now on display at the Houston Police Museum in Downtown Houston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Horror Every Day: Why Police Brutality Goes Unpunished

An investigation into the Houston police department reveals why officers rarely face the consequences of beatings or shootings.

December 13, 2013 |

The following story first appeared in the Texas Observer.Check out their website for more great stories.

Sebastian Prevot watched helplessly as three police officers advanced on his wife. Prevot was handcuffed and bleeding in the back of a cop car. Half of his left ear dangled where it had been torn from his head. The Houston Police Department doesn’t deny that its officers gave Prevot these injuries during a late-night arrest in January 2012. The only dispute is whether he earned them.

This Report has more than 10 pages, please read them here:

UN Claims Uruguay Not Allowed to End Marijuana Prohibition

  UN Claims Uruguay Not Allowed to End Marijuana Prohibition

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As the United Nations, which is widely ridiculed as the “dictators club,” becomes increasingly bold in purporting to dictate policy to nations and governments, the controversial global body is now under fire from many of its traditional allies after claiming that Uruguay’s recent decision to end marijuana prohibition violates “international law.” The United Nation‘s claim about Uruguayan drug laws follows recent demands by it that Obama defy state voters and the U.S. Constitution to smash cannabis legalization in American states.

With the recent decision to end decades of pot prohibition in Uruguay making it the first entire nation to take the step, analysts widely anticipate similar efforts around the world to accelerate. Already, voters in Colorado and Washington state have completely nullified the federal and international marijuana regimes, and other states have come close. Across Latin America and Europe, meanwhile, drug policy more broadly…

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U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare

US incarceration timeline
US incarceration timeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare


Veröffentlicht am 20.08.2013

U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare
For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other — on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?
For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration — by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.
This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million — an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course — nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.
Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.
It’s important the attorney general brought up drugs, because the numbers are startling. Federal prisons, the group Holder was referring to, account for about 14 percent of our total inmates. In these prisons, the most serious charge for nearly half of all inmates is a drug offence. Compare that with state prisons, where only 20 percent of the inmates have a drug offence as their most serious charge.
More from CNN: Shame of mandatory minimums
Now, here is what is interesting. The federal prison population has increased every single year since 1980. On the other hand, state prison populations have been declining in recent years, so much so that the overall number of inmates — state plus federal — is actually down in each of the past three years. And here is the best part: the declines encompass 28 states, red AND blue.
Part of these declines are because budgets were simply collapsing. But it could also be because of a growing acknowledgment that the war on drugs has failed. According to the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance, the United States spends about $50 billion a year on the drug war — adding up to a trillion dollars in the last four decades — but there has been no real change in addiction rates.
Americans are not more prone to drugs or crime than citizens of other countries, so why should we put so many people in prison? Well, the good news is that the numbers are finally too large to ignore. The states are already acting. And Holder’s comments will add momentum to a growing chorus for reform.
The greatest challenge in pushing these numbers further down will be the prison lobby. Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners.
According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year — paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.
If our politicians can take on the prison lobbies, there really is hope for America.


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U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN By Global Public Square staff We were st…

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H&M Admits There’s a Simple Way to Pay Garment Workers More

Female workers in an H. J. Heinz can factory s...
Female workers in an H. J. Heinz can factory stamping out end discs (the discs that fit on either end of each can). From the materials for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, held in Seattle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

H&M Admits There’s a Simple Way to Pay Garment Workers More

by ThinkProgress
December 12, 2013
12:00 pm

Written by Bryce Covert

Swedish retailer H&M said on Monday that it could eventually raise its prices to help pay the factory workers who make its products better wages, according to Agence France Presse. The company’s head of sustainability told the paper that such an option “might be a possibility,” although it won’t come in the near future.

In the meantime, however, she said the company would use “its size and influence with suppliers” to increase wages and get the workers better training, the paper noted. It will also push governments to raise their minimum wages.

Viveka Risberg, with the organization Swedwatch that monitors multinational corporations in the country, noted that H&M’s statement is “the first time ever” a retailer had said it could raise prices.

Garment factory workers have been protesting in large numbers for higher wages in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and the strikes have turned violent as protesters clash with police. Bangladesh recently raised its minimum wage to 5,300 takas a month, or $66, a 77 percent increase over its previous wage of $38. Yet it fell far short of what workers had been demanding and still leaves them the worst paid in the world.

But Bangladesh is far from alone in failing to guarantee that its workers make enough to live on. Of the top 21 countries that export garments to the United States, workers in 15 make just a third of what would amount to a living wage. Wages have also been declining in many of these countries.

H&M was also one of the first retailers to sign on to a legally binding agreement to upgrade Bangladesh’s garment factories after a fatal collapse that killed more than 1,100 in April. While the majority of the country’s factories are vulnerable to collapse, if companies decided to raise their prices to pay for the upgrades, it would cost consumers just 10 cents more per garment.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

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“Saving Bobbi: A teen´s sex trafficking ordeal” MST

November 17, 2013 by Thank You!

Saving Bobbi: A teen’s sex trafficking ordeal – Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Saving Bobbi: A teen’s sex trafficking ordeal Minneapolis Star Tribune Though many Americans think of child sex trafficking as a global scourge of the developing world, advocates warn it is an insidious domestic problem, too. …

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The prison biz…

English: People sitting in the courtyard of a ...
English: People sitting in the courtyard of a building. Line Drawing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


today 3:12 PM
Brasscheck sent an E-Mail:
The bogus drug ware.
The prison biz.
It’s bigger than you think and the product is slave labor – in the US.
– Brasscheck

Extreme Sentencing – The `New Normal?` (with two important links)

English: A page from American Civil Liberties ...
English: A page from American Civil Liberties Union v. Ashcroft. This image was made public by the ACLU (from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Director of the ACLU‘s Center for Justice


Extreme Sentencing — the ‘New Normal?’

Posted: 11/15/2013  3:19 pm

Director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice

It should outrage us that a homeless man will be in prison for the rest of his life because he was the middleman in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana. We can all pretty much agree that the punishment of growing old and dying behind bars for such offenses is a wildly extreme, tragic and wasteful overreaction to the crime.

But it should not surprise us. Cases like this man’s are just the tip of the iceberg.

Hundreds of thousands of people in American prisons are serving decades-long sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes. They comprise an increasingly aging prison population that costs more and more to maintain as their health deteriorates, increasingly strapping state budgets. In many cases, the person incarcerated could have been effectively held accountable in the community with no prison time at all. In other more serious cases where incarceration may be warranted, the person incarcerated could successfully return to the community after a much shorter time in prison, especially if job training and education were available to ease reentry. But this is not the norm.

Instead, in jurisdictions all around the country, incarceration has been touted as the solution to scores of problems it is ill equipped to address, pushing the number of people in jail and prison to over 2.3 million people. That’s more than the number of people living in New Mexico. This prison-focused punishment system is wildly expensive, destructive to families and communities, and does not work. Research shows diminishing returns of long sentences–the longer a person is incapacitated and removed from family and work opportunities, the less bang we get for the buck in terms of reduced recidivism.

Many policy makers agree that sentencing law relics of the 1980s and 1990s are ineffective. So what stands in our way? For too many Americans, the long sentences we mete out are just the “new normal.” It is hard to shock us when it comes to our criminal justice system. The ease with which we throw away certain people’s lives, particularly the lives of black and brown men, women, and children, demonstrates a general disregard and devaluation of certain communities as irredeemable and unworthy of meaningful interventions that might actually change the course of their lives and heal their communities, and to which many other communities have easier access.

Much of the extreme sentencing in America is justified in the name of victims, with the aim of preventing violence and keeping communities safe. The irony and the lesser known fact is that the majority of crime victims in this country come from the same high incarceration communities. Moreover, polls of victims of crime have found that the vast majority do not want the people responsible for hurting them to be incarcerated if alternatives are available. What matters most to victims of crime is that what happened to them not happen to anyone else. They see the sky-high recidivism rates, and recognize that long prison terms are doing a terrible job of ensuring that people don’t commit crimes in the future. If our goal is to promote safe and healthy communities, we need a different strategy, one that promotes real solutions, such as robust, community-based programs that provide job training, education, classes, and other accountability measures to people who have committed crimes.

The 3,278 people profiled in the ACLU’s recently-released report, A Living Death, did not commit crimes with direct victims. Yet even they received sentences at the extreme end of the spectrum: life without parole. It is time to hold our system accountable for its actions.

We can do better. We know that extreme sentencing is not the answer. Help us fight it at–the-n_b_4283971.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

The complete report A Living Death: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses is available here.

Read some of the stories of people serving life without parole on our interactive story map.

“The US can lock up hackers, but it can´t crush their spirit” The Guardian

Hammond's Flycatcher
Hammond’s Flycatcher (Photo credit: K Schneider)

The US can lock up hackers, but it can’t crush their spirit

Jeremy Hammond is just the the latest to be targeted in a global witchhunt against the brightest minds of a generation
Young boy aged 16 sat down in casual clothes on a laptop computer

To ‘the online culture … digital activists who risk everything for the public’s ‘right to know’ are heroes’. Photograph: fotovisage/Alamy

Why is the US sending some of its best young minds to jail? On Friday Jeremy Hammond, a 28-year-old digital activist from Chicago, will learn how many years he is to serve for participating in the 2011 hack of the private security firm Stratfor. “I believe in the power of the truth,” said Hammond, pleading guilty to helping liberate millions of emails from the company, which is paid by large corporations to spy on activists around the world. “I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right.”

Like the others who took part in the Stratfor hack, Hammond wasn’t out for money, and he didn’t get any. Nonetheless, he has spent the past 18 months in prison, including extended periods in solitary confinement, and now faces a 10-year prison sentence. Hammond is the latest target of a global witchhunt against hackers, whistleblowers and anyone who seeks to release private information in the public interest.

The witchhunt is being led by the US government, but its targets are international: Lauri Love, an activist from Suffolk, was arrested in Britain last month and may face extradition on charges of hacking into US government networks and a possible decade in a US jail. The legislation used to single out and lock up these people is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a flexible law that allows US courts to impose almost indefinite sentences against any crime committed with a computer, down to simple violation of terms of service.

In practice, by some staggering coincidence, the digital crimes that get prosecuted are those that happen to make governments and large corporations look foolish. Financial damage is the main thrust of the prosecutors’ claim against Hammond and his fellow LulzSec members, but it isn’t really the money that matters. Hammond is being asked to pay back just $250,000; by comparison, you would have to embezzle tens of millions of dollars to get an equivalent sentence for corporate fraud in the same Manhattan courtroom. …

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