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Lawyers for WikiLeaker Manning ask judge not to 'rob him of his youth'

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning departs the courthouse at Fort Meade, Maryland July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning departs the courthouse at Fort Meade, Maryland July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Medina Roshan

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - Attorneys for Bradley Manning, the soldier found guilty of turning over 700,000 classified U.S. files to WikiLeaks, called on a military judge on Monday to sentence him to a term that "doesn't rob him of his youth," rather than the 60 years urged by prosecutors.

Manning, 25, was working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when he committed the largest unauthorized release of secret documents in U.S. history, catapulting pro-transparency website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the international spotlight.

"Perhaps his biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life and that he couldn't ignore it," defense attorney David Coombs said during closing arguments of the sentencing part of Manning's court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland.

"This court has had a year and half to see the conduct of PFC Manning. He's a little geeky at times. But he's caring, he's compassionate," Coombs said. "This is a young man who is capable of being redeemed. We should not rob him of his youth."

Earlier on Monday, prosecutor Captain Joe Morrow told Judge Colonel Denise Lind, "He betrayed the United States."

"For that betrayal he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in prison," Morrow said.

In July, Lind found the Army private first class guilty of 20 criminal charges including espionage, which carry a possible prison sentence of up to 90 years. She found him not guilty of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which could have carried a penalty of life in prison without parole.

Prosecuting attorneys contended during the trial that when Manning turned over the secret documents he had put national security, including overseas intelligence operatives, at risk. They argued and witnesses testified that the slightly built soldier had hoped to spark a broader debate on the role of the U.S. military.

According to defense testimony during the trial, military supervisors ignored bizarre acts by Manning that included trying to grab a gun during a counseling session. Defense attorneys had argued that such actions showed Manning was not fit for duty overseas.

Morrow argued that the military was not to blame for Manning's actions.

"It wasn't the military's fault. It wasn't because he saw something horrible. It was because he had an agenda. It matters that he took an oath and he knowingly broke it," Morrow said. "The Army didn't abandon PFC Manning. PFC Manning abandoned the Army."

On Tuesday, Judge Lind is expected to begin deliberating the length of Manning's sentence, which will likely be served in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Manning's trial is winding down at the same time the United States is seeking the return of Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor who disclosed details of a number of secret U.S. programs that included monitoring Americans' telephone and Internet traffic. Snowden has been given temporary asylum in Russia.

Manning has won support from some Americans for his acts, with one rights group saying he should be a candidate for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Earlier this year, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges but military prosecutors continued their effort to convict him on more serious counts.

Manning addressed the court last Wednesday, telling the judge he was "sorry" for his actions.

"I understand I must pay a price for my decisions," he said.

(Editing by Ian Simpson, Scott Malone, Toni Reinhold)

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