First Class Private (Pfc) Bradley Manning, accused of uploading hundreds of thousands of classified materials to Wikileaks, has pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges brought before him. The guilty pleas are the first time Manning has admitted to uploading the materials to the site, which included over 250,000 diplomatic cables, battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, files on Guantanamo detainees, two intelligence memos and two video clips.
Manning’s uploads to the whistle-blowing website are thought to comprise the biggest leak of classified materials in military history.
The guilty pleas relate to 10 lesser charges of violating military regulations that carry a maximum sentence of two years each. A military judge accepted the pleas, meaning the 25 year-old now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years. Prosecutors have insisted, however, on moving forward with the additional 12 charges, including aiding the enemy, violation and espionage laws, all of which Manning denies. The US has maintained the availability of such information threatened military and diplomatic sources, and strained its relations with other nations.
The punishments accompanying these 12 charges are much harsher; aiding the enemy is a capital offence. Although the prosecution has said they will not seek the death penalty, Manning still faces life imprisonment if convicted. The prosecution is expected to argue that Manning knew his uploads of classified materials to an open forum, such as the internet, demonstrates an awareness of the material’s availability to the enemy.
Reading from a 35-page long statement, Manning told the court he had become disillusioned with the military and wanted to provide the American public with the information in order to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”
Manning’s growing disillusionment and frustration with the military and US foreign policy led him to conclude that the military “…became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists… I wanted the public to know that not everyone living in Iraq were targets to be neutralized.” He went on to say that his aim was to cause society to “re-evaluate” the need for “counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.”
Though Manning initially contacted the Washington Post and the New York Times, he was rebuffed and uploaded the materials to Wikileaks after meeting a senior Wikileaks figure codenamed ‘Ox’ online. The US government maintains ‘Ox’ was Julian Assange.
It is clear that Manning saw himself as a whistleblower, intent on exposing unacceptable directions in US foreign policy. He felt that battlefield logs were not especially sensitive, since they had faded into the past. He acknowledged the diplomatic cables, including the infamous Reykjavik3, would “embarrass” the US, but not damage it (in his own words, he thought they were a collection of “cliques and gossip”), but he was most worried about the “bloodlust” of an Apache helicopter crew who fired on Reuters journalists and unarmed civilians in Iraq.
The video was named ‘Collateral Murder’ by Wikileaks. The video shows an attack on a a journalist and a Good Samaritan who stopped to take the man to hospital. Though the journalist was originally mistaken for a member of the armed militia, the subsequent targeting of the journalist and the Good Samaritan was clearly a war crime. The gunner has never been brought to account. Describing the video, Manning said: “For me that was like a child torturing an ant with a magnifying glass.”
After he had leaked the materials, Manning described his relief after reflecting on what he had done: “I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience.”
His court martial is scheduled to begin on June 3.
BY: Matthew Jones