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Should Bradley Manning Be Set Free?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bradley Manning has been found guilty of most of the counts against him, including five counts of espionage. The sentencing hearing began this morning, July 31, and will likely continue for weeks. Facing a maximum 136 years, Manning could easily spend the rest of his life in prison.

My own view is that that would be a severe injustice. Setting him free might be a better choice.

Of the main facts in the case there is no dispute: He stole hundreds of thousands of secret documents, shared that classified information with the world, in doing so he reneged on his responsibilities as a member of military intelligence. I would go so far as to say he is guilty of working against the interests of his own government.

The judge in the case, Col. Denise Lind, stopped short of the most ominous charge of "aiding the enemy," finding that the government failed to prove that point. As an editorial on Bloomberg Businessweek points out, that decision shows a constructive measure of restraint and a practical use of the bench for reasons of statesmanship.

The Manning verdict bears the strong imprint of common sense. Lind rejected the government's contention that, by dint of his training in intelligence, Manning knew his disclosures of documents and videos related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would likely come to the attention of al-Qaeda. On the other hand, Lind found that Manning should have known that his actions could harm the U.S., even if that was not his goal.

The question that I'm left with, as we prepare to sentence him to X number of years in prison, is this: Whose government is it? Answering that question has led me to the conclusion that, nearly regardless of his personal motivations, Manning's sentence should at the very least be light. Possibly he should even be set free.

Granted the statesmanship angle is not one to be taken lightly. If the government does not aggressively pursue Manning or Edward Snowden then it loses significant, functional credibility in the eyes of the world. How do you assure the leader of another country of confidentiality when your secrets are being handed out to the media like Halloween candy?

Having deployed our young men and women into dangerous situations with our guns, putting their lives on the line, we must do everything we can to support them. A leak of military information could needlessly undermine their efforts, turning them into targets and even getting them killed before any strategy could be implemented.