Manning, 25, announced on Thursday through her lawyer that she will undergo hormone therapy to become a woman and wishes to be called Chelsea Manning. The former army-anaylst wishes to be referred to as “she” rather than “he”, the lawyer said.
After handing over a huge amount of classified military and diplomatic information to whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, Manning was convicted of violating the espionage act. She was, however, acquitted of aiding the enemy – which would have seen her given a much heftier sentence.
The German papers have been following both the Manning and, more recently, the Edward Snowden case, with a critical eye. As a nation waving the flag for data protection, the German press generally covered the sentence in terms of the effect it will have on the world’s press.
Heavyweight daily the Süddeutsche Zeitung called the ruling, “above all, a call on the media and its informers to be more careful.” The newspaper slammed the attempt to have Manning sentenced for aiding the enemy as “absurd”, and said that should Judge Denise Lind have ruled guilty, “investigative journalism would have taken a deadly blow”.
“It would have meant that every journalist who puts out secret information could potentially face being charged with treason and aiding the enemy. This is punishable by death in America,” it said.
Over at the Berliner Zeitung emphasis was laid on the effect of Manning’s, and Snowden’s, leaks. It called their revelations “the best possible examples of how breaching secrecy could be beneficial.” Manning leaking videos of US soldiers shooting at civilians from helicopters “triggered a huge new debate about why war efforts are being made and morals in the US army,” it said.
In Munich, regional paper the Münchner Merkur wrote that sentencing Manning to such a long time behind bars was a deterrent to others who have secrets, not to pass them on.
With David Miranda’s detention at Heathrow airport and the British newspaper the Guardian being ordered to smash hard drives with private data on, the paper argued that the ruling was not just a deterrent to army officials, but to journalists too.
It argued: “On what grounds can Obama and Cameron push for human rights and freedom in China, Russia and North Korea when they themselves are pushing the boundaries?”
Regional paper the Badische Zeitung took somewhat of a more hardline approach to Manning’s military betrayal. Thirty five years behind bars was “a victory for democracy,” it said. The leader writer hailed judge Lind as being “courageous in her attempt to pave the way for the government to set an example.”
For the Stuttgarter Zeitung the fact that the punishment was more lenient than prosecutors had wanted, was “a signal to all whistleblowers that even if they do start important debates about the sense of war and the work of secret services, 35 years instead of 60 in prison is not a blessing.”