U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning told a military tribunal on Thursday that he leaked secret files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks in order to start a “public debate.”
Speaking in a firm and assured voice to read a nearly hour-long statement, Pte. Manning said that when he deployed to Iraq he found himself alienated from his comrades and at odds with an army that “seemed not to value human life.”
The 25-year-old, who is being held in military custody pending trial, said he would plead guilty to 10 of the less serious of the 22 charges against him, but would deny aiding America’s enemies, a crime that carries a life term.
Even if the court agrees to pursue only the lesser allegations, Pte. Manning still faces 20 years in military custody for leaking classified material to Australian activist Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks whistle-blower website.
“At the time I believed, and I still believe, these are two of the most significant documents of our time,” he said, adding that he wanted to “spark a domestic public debate about our foreign policy and the war in general.”
He also provided a vast trove of U.S. diplomatic cables and cockpit video from a U.S. helicopter gunship involved in an incident in which Iraqi civilians died.
After contacting the Washington Post, The New York Times and Politico, Pte. Manning said he had chosen to work with WikiLeaks as it seemed to him, from what he had read, that the group “exposed illegal activities and corruption” and was “almost academic in nature.”
But he said he never aimed to put U.S. policy or U.S. personnel in danger.
Pte. Manning recounted an episode in which he was asked to look into the detention of 15 people by the Iraqi federal police.
When he determined that their crime had been to print critiques of corruption by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his superiors told him to drop the matter.
“I couldn’t believe what I heard,” he declared.
Pte. Manning’s plea offer was presented to a military tribunal at Fort Meade in Maryland by his lawyer, David Coombs, and the young soldier confirmed to the court that he understood the implications of his offer.
He intends to plead guilty to “unauthorized possession and willful transmission” of the video and of documents recounting civilian deaths during U.S. operations Iraq and Afghanistan.
He will also admit “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily” providing WikiLeaks with the classified diplomatic cables.
Judge Denise Lind asked Pte. Manning whether he understood the implications of his plea offer: “Do you understand this? Do you have questions about this? Do you still want to go forward with this?”
“Yes, your honour,” he replied.