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But he also warned that the sentence will ensure that Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker who has taken refuge in Russia, "will do his best never to return to the United States and face a trial and stiff sentence."
Manning digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while working in 2010 in Iraq.
The Crescent, Okla., native also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
A potentially more explosive leak case unfolded as Manning's court-martial was underway, when Snowden was charged with espionage for exposing the NSA's Internet and telephone surveillance programs.
At his trial, Manning said he gave the material to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks to expose the U.S. military's "bloodlust" and generate debate over the wars and U.S. policy.
During the sentencing phase, he apologized for the damage he caused, saying, "When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people."
His lawyers also argued that Manning suffered extreme inner turmoil over his gender identity — his feeling that he was a woman trapped in a man's body — while serving in the macho military during the "don't ask, don't tell" era. Among the evidence was a photo of him in a blond wig and lipstick.
Coombs argued that Manning had been full of youthful idealism and "really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference."
Prosecutors showed that al-Qaida used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video and that Osama bin Laden presumably read some of the leaked documents. Some of the material was found in bin Laden's hideout after he was killed.
Also, government witnesses testified the leaks endangered U.S. intelligence sources, some of whom were moved to other countries for their safety. And several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.
The Obama administration has charged seven people with leaking to the news media, while only three people were prosecuted in all previous administrations combined.
Prosecutors called Manning an anarchist and an attention-seeking traitor, while supporters have hailed him as a whistleblower and likened him to Daniel Ellsberg, the defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
The secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam was released to The New York Times and other newspapers in a case touched off an epic clash between the Nixon administration and the press and led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment.
In a telephone interview after Manning's sentencing, Ellsberg called the soldier "one more casualty of a horrible, wrongful war that he tried to shorten."
"I think his example will always be an inspiration of civil and moral courage to truth tellers in the future," Ellsberg said.