FORT MEADE, Md. – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning pleaded guilty Thursday to sending huge digital archives of secret U.S. military and diplomatic records to the WikiLeaks website, saying he was motivated by a U.S. foreign policy “obsessed with killing and capturing people.”
Manning, 25, sat erect in dress blues beside his lawyers in a military courtroom and read aloud for more than an hour – slowly but sometimes stumbling over his words – from a 35-page, handwritten statement that described his personal angst over America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I began to become depressed with the situation we had become mired in year after year,” he said.
After his nearly three years in jail, Manning’s sometimes rambling, sometimes riveting confession offered the first public insights into what drove the former low-level intelligence analyst to play a role in what prosecutors called the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history – an estimated 700,000 documents in all.
It is unlikely, however, to settle the argument of whether the pale, thin soldier in wire-rim glasses deliberately aided America’s enemies and put U.S. lives at risk, as prosecutors contend, or was a whistle-blower who committed civil disobedience to expose flaws in U.S. policies, as his supporters say.
Manning said his goal was to spark a domestic debate about U.S. foreign policy and “to make the world a better place.” He said he thought the leaks “might be embarrassing” but would not harm the United States.
Prosecutors are expected to present a detailed assessment of the alleged damage to national security caused by the leaks when Manning is sentenced.
Manning is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the military.
But Manning also pleaded not guilty to 12 far more serious charges, including aiding the enemy and multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act. He is scheduled to face a court-martial beginning June 3. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.