FORT MEADE, Md. — Private First Class Bradley Manning confessed in open court Thursday to providing vast archives of military and diplomatic files to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, saying he wanted the information to become public “to make the world a better place.”
Appearing before a military judge for more than an hour, Manning recounted how he joined the military, became an intelligence analyst in Iraq, decided that certain documents should become known to the American public to prompt a wider debate about the Iraq War, and ultimately uploaded them to WikiLeaks.
“No one associated with WLO” — an abbreviation he used to refer to the WikiLeaks organization — “pressured me into sending any more information,” Manning said. “I take full responsibility.”
Before his statement, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts in connection with the leak, which included videos of airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan in which civilians were killed, logs of military incident reports, assessment files of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a quarter- million diplomatic cables.
The pleas exposed him to up to 20 years in prison. But the case against the slightly built, bespectacled 25-year-old who has become a folk hero among antiwar and whistle-blower advocacy groups is not over.
The military has charged him with a far more serious set of offenses, including aiding the enemy and multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act, and prosecutors have the option to press forward with proving the remaining elements of the more serious charges.
That would involve focusing only on questions like whether the information he provided counted as the sort covered by the Espionage Act — that is, whether it is “national defense information” that could be used to injure the United States or aid a foreign nation.
In a riveting personal history, Manning portrayed himself as thinking carefully about the categories of information he was divulging, excluding the sort that would harm the United States. He said he was initially concerned about diplomatic cables but after doing research learned that the most sensitive ones were not placed into the database to which he had access, and he concluded that those might prove embarrassing but would not cause harm.
Manning said the first set of documents that he decided to release were hundreds of thousands of military incident reports from Afghanistan and Iraq that he had downloaded onto a disk because he needed them for his work, and the computer network connection kept going down. The reports, he decided, showed the flaws in the counterinsurgency policy the United States was then pursuing in both war zones.
The military, he said, had become “obsessed with capturing or killing” people on a list while ignoring what the operations were doing to ordinary people. The reports, he said, were not sensitive because they recounted events that were long over.
“I believed if the public, in particular the American public, had access to the information, this could spark a debate about foreign policy,” he said.
At first he tried to give it to a newspaper. Eventually, Manning released the information by uploading it to WikiLeaks.