Fort Meade: After almost three years in custody, the soldier accused in the biggest leak of classified material in US history said he did it because he wanted the public to know how the American military was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with little regard for human life.
Bradley Manning, 25, pleaded guilty yesterday at a military hearing to 10 charges that could carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Prosecutors plan to pursue 12 more charges against him at court-martial, including a charge of aiding the enemy that carries a potential life sentence.
"I began to become depressed at the situation we found ourselves mired in year after year. In attempting counterinsurgency operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists," the former intelligence analyst in Baghdad told a judge.
He added, "I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralised."
It was the first time Manning directly admitted leaking hundreds of thousands of pages of material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and detailed the frustrations that led him to do it.
The slightly built soldier read from a 35-page statement for more than an hour. He spoke quickly and evenly, showing little emotion even when he described how troubled he was by what he had seen.
The judge accepted his plea to 10 charges involving illegal possession or distribution of classified material. Manning was allowed to plead guilty under military regulations instead of federal espionage law, which knocked the potential sentence down from 92 years.
He will not be sentenced until his court-martial on the other charges is over.
Manning admitted sending Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables, other classified records and two battlefield video clips to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2010. WikiLeaks posted some of the material, embarrassing the US and its allies.
He said he did not believe the release of the information he downloaded onto a thumb drive would harm the US.
"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.
Manning said he was appalled by 2007 combat video of an assault by a US helicopter that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer. The Pentagon concluded the troops mistook the camera equipment for weapons.