THE soldier charged in the largest leak of classified material in US history has admitted in court that he sent the material to whistleblowing website Wikileaks to enlighten the public about American foreign and military policy.
Bradley Manning read from a 35-page statement for more than an hour and entered guilty pleas to ten of 22 charges against him in Ford Meade, Maryland, yesterday.
He said: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information… this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
Manning said he was troubled by counterinsurgency strategies that seemed to ignore “the complex dynamics of the people living in the environment”.
A military judge is to consider whether to accept the guilty plea to reduced charges on the ten counts, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
However, even if the plea is accepted, prosecutors can still pursue a court-martial on the remaining 12 charges. One of those is aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence.
The 25-year-old Manning admitted yesterday that he sent hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables, other classified records and two battlefield video clips to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.
The slight, bespectacled soldier spoke quickly and evenly, with little emotion, even as he described how troubled he was by the material he leaked.
The battlefield reports were the first documents that Manning decided to leak. He said he chose to send them to anti- secrecy WikiLeaks after his efforts to give them to the Washington Post and the New York Times were rebuffed.
Manning said that, in his experiences, the battlefield reports were not treated as especially sensitive, particularly after the events they documented faded into the past.
He said he was concerned about leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive State Department cables but that he ultimately decided they would not be harmful since they were so widely distributed within the military.
“I thought these cables were a prime example of the need for a more open diplomacy,” Manning said. “I believed that these cables would not damage the United States. However, I believed these cables would be embarrassing.”
The Obama administration has said releasing the information threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments. The administration has aggressively pursued individuals accused of leaking classified material, and Manning’s is the highest-profile case.
Manning’s supporters around the world say that leaking the documents was an act of conscience.
Manning has been embraced by some activists as a whistleblowing hero whose actions exposed war crimes and helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring in 2010.
Wikileaks made no secret of its admiration for what Manning said was his decision to expose the documents to the world.
A message posted to Twitter by Manning supporter Nathan Fuller and retweeted by Wikileaks said: “Bradley Manning pleaded not guilty to aiding the enemy.
“Aiding the public is not aiding the enemy.”