WASHINGTON -- More than 1,500 Bradley Manning supporters have offered to serve part of the WikiLeaks source's potential 132.5-year sentence.
Manning is the 25-year-old Army private first class who was convicted Tuesday on 19 counts for sending a massive trove of documents to the anti-secrecy group. His case has become a cause celebre among many in the anti-war community who see his leaks of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports as an act of conscience.
"Many Americans see what Manning did as a good thing -- and they are so strongly committed to it that they're willing to serve a sentence for him," said Kevin Zeese, an attorney and activist who serves on the steering committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
The petition, called "I Will Proudly Serve Part of Bradley Manning's Sentence," is directed at Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, who as the convening authority for his trial will review whatever sentence military judge Col. Denise Lind declares.
So many have signed the petition at this point, Zeese noted, that if each took an equal part of Manning's potential maximum sentence they would serve less than a month.
"There's a lot of safety in numbers," he said. "We obviously recognize that the military is unlikely to let us serve his sentence, but the people who are signing up are really committed, so it's up to them whether this is more a symbol than a reality. From our perspective we are really offering to do this."
The sentencing phase of Manning's trial began on Wednesday, a day after his verdict was reached. It could last weeks. Testimony has so far established that the government could not link Manning's leaks to any deaths. Lind is unlikely to sentence Manning to the full 132.5 years, but he could nevertheless face a long prison term.