28 Feb 2013

Wikileaks: Bradley Manning pleads guilty to lesser charges

The US soldier accused of leaking thousands of secret documents to Wikileaks has for the first time admited the leak at a military hearing and pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges he faces.

Private First Class Manning told his court martial he took full responsibility for his actions, saying: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general.”

This was the first time the 25-year old admitted that he had 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.

Speaking before a military judge in Washington DC, he said that he was troubled and “depressed” by counterinsurgency strategies that seemed to ignore “the complex dynamics of the people living in the environment”. He was motivated to make the secrets public to expose the American military’s “bloodlust” in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.

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. Bradley Manning

Private Manning has denied the most serious charge against him, that of aiding the enemy. He pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him.

Sitting before a military judge, the slightly built 25-year-old soldier spoke quickly and evenly, showing little emotion even when he described how troubled he was by what he had seen.

The military court heard of the army private’s repeated attempts to give the documents to mainstream media outlets. Reading for over an hour from a 35-page statement, he told how he was rebuffed by the Washington Post and the New York Times before sending them to the Wikileaks website.

“Political prisoner”

Describing Bradley Manning as “America’s foremost political prisoner”, the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told Channel 4 News that “all those involved in the persecution of Bradley Manning will find cause to reflect on their actions.”

Referring to the refusal of mainstream media outlets to take documents, Mr Assange added: “The only safe way to get these cowards to publish anything is to get Wikileaks to do it first.”

Private Manning is accused of the biggest leak of classified material in US history.

Clear conscience

Private Manning for the first time gave an insight into what motivated him to pass over the secret documents, and described how he felt afterwards, saying: “I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience.”

The 25-year-old said he didn’t think the information would harm the US, adding that the vast majority of cables from the State Department that he released were not classified, and were more embarrassing than damaging for the government: “In many ways, these cables are a catalog of cliques and gossip.”

Harsh treatment

Private Manning, who has been held at the Quantico marine base in Virginia for over 1,000 days, could face life imprisonment if found guilty of aiding the enemy. The charges he has pleaded guilty to on Thursday carry a maximum of 20 years.

However, Judge Lind, who is hearing the case, has already ruled that Manning should have any sentence reduced by 112 days to recognise the harsh treatment he has received. At Quantico he was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, with guards checking on him every few minutes.

The 25-year-old was arrested in May 2010, while serving in Iraq.