After over 1,000 days of solitary confinement in a military prison, Private First Class Bradley Manning finally got his day in court, and he pleaded not guilty to the most serious charge brought against him.
Manning, 25, pleaded guilty to 10 charges that he misused and transmitted classified information – which could net him 20 years in prison – but not guilty to "aiding the enemy", which under Article 104 of the US Uniform Code of Military Justice carries the penalty of "death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct."
Reading from a 35-page statement, Manning admitted that between 2009 and 2010 he downloaded over 250,000 intelligence reports, diplomatic cables from US overseas diplomatic staff, reports on the conditions inside the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and combat videos from Afghanistan – including one from an Apache helicopter showing US soldiers shooting unarmed civilians.
"I believe that if the general public ... had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general," he read from his statement, Reuters reports.
Manning said that he initially tried to give the information cache to reporters at The New York Times and the Washington Post, but was rebuffed or ignored. He therefore decided to send it to WikiLeaks, which then somewhat ironically worked with the NYT, The Guardian, and other media outlets to coordinate the release of the information after checking that sensitive information wasn't included.
Manning said that he passed over the documents only after a lengthy email correspondence with Julian Assange so that he could be sure WikiLeaks could be trusted with the information. He said that at no point did Assange or WikiLeaks put any pressure on him to hand over his data or ask him for more.
"I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience," Manning said in his statement.
A prisoner of conscience?
The release of the information caused a world of embarrassment to the US military (and kicked off a security revamp within the organization), and the government claims sensitive details that could have costs lives and hurt the country were leaked (Britain's former top spook disagrees). Manning disputes this, and the government will now have to make its case in Manning's juryless court-martial trial.
Ashden Fein, the leading prosecution counsel, said that he planned to call 141 witnesses to testify against Manning, including 15 who would demonstrate that he has directly harmed US national interests. Due to the sensitive nature of the evidence under discussion, 33 of the witnesses will give their evidence in closed court.
By contrast, presiding judge Colonel Denise Lind ruled yesterday that Manning could have only one witness: William Leonard of the National Archives and Records Administration. He will also not be allowed to present any evidence accusing the US government of excessive secrecy.
The full court-martial will begin on June 3 and is expected to run for weeks. If he is found guilty, Manning is unlikely to face the death penalty – given the enormous furor this would cause – but could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
This makes last month's ruling that Manning will get 112 days taken off any sentence he receives rather moot.
Manning's lawyers claimed he was kept awake from 5am to 10pm and not allowed to lie down or lean against a wall during that time. A military judge ruled that Manning's incarceration in a windowless cell at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia for nearly three years was "excessive." ®