To many people, U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is a hero. Manning is accused of leaking classified U.S. documents to the website, WikiLeaks. The information compromised the security of many U.S. military members as well as others who -- at peril to their own lives -- have assisted the U.S. and its allies in the war on terrorism.
Manning will go on trial soon, and he faces a life sentence if convicted. His defenders call him a political prisoner, and approve of his releasing secret documents and potentially damaging a war effort that they consider immoral. In fact, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, described Manning as "an example to all of us" and pleaded for his release.
(Assange himself is facing legal troubles. He's holed up in Ecuador's embassy in Great Britain, trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault.)
If the charges against Manning are proved, his acts were treasonous and he deserves punishment. When one makes a commitment to serve the U.S. military, it includes the promise to serve and protect the United States and its citizens. Leaking classified information that puts soldiers and other allies at risk is treasonous -- that's a no-brainer.
If Manning's motivation for the alleged leaks was for political satisfaction rather than monetary gain, that may put him on a slightly higher moral plane than spies and others who committed treason for money. But it does not absolve him of the responsibility to face the consequences of his actions. His supporters' pleas that he be freed and even praised by U.S. officials for his actions are not going to happen.
When one decides to defy his military obligations and put his own allies at risk by his illegal actions, the stakes are high. If Bradley Manning truly believes himself to be a political prisoner, he's likely to spend decades, perhaps the rest of his natural life, for living those beliefs and later facing the consequences.