A soldier arrested in the biggest leak of classified material in US history gave the first detailed explanation of his actions yesterday, offering to plead guilty to charges that could send him to prison for 20 years and saying he spilled the secrets to expose the American military’s “bloodlust” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was the first time Private Bradley Manning directly admitted leaking the material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and detailed the frustrations that led him to do it.
Sitting before a military judge in Fort Meade, Maryland, the slightly-built 25-year-old read from a 35-page statement through his wire-rimmed glasses for more than an hour. He spoke quickly and evenly, showing little emotion.
“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.
A military judge, Colonel Denise Lind, is weighing whether to accept Manning’s guilty plea to reduced charges on 10 counts.
Even then, military 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.
Manning said he did not think the information would harm the US and he decided to release it because he was disturbed by the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He said: “In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists.”
He added: “I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralised.”
Manning admitted sending 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 battlefield reports were the first documents Manning decided to leak. He said he sent them to WikiLeaks after contacting the Washington Post and New York Times. He said he felt a reporter at the Post did not take him seriously, and a message he left at the Times was not returned.
Manning said he was appalled by a 2007 combat video of an aerial assault by a US helicopter that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops mistook the camera equipment for weapons.
“The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team happened to have,” Manning said. The case continues.