Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence officer accused of passing sensitive military documents to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, is expected to tell a courtroom Thursday morning why he assisted in the leak.
Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is scheduled to make a statement on Thursday – his second since being arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of giving Julian Assange’s website hundreds of thousands of US State Department diplomatic cables and a trove of other documents.
Manning is slated to go before a military court-martial this June, and faces life imprisonment if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the charges against him. On Thursday, however, the Kansas-born soldier is expected to plead guilty on lesser charges in hopes of a more lenient sentence; in doing so, he may speak about his motivation for leaking the files.
“Manning is expected to publicly explain his reasons for releasing classified information through WikiLeaks,” confirmed the Bradley Manning Support Network, a collective of advocates who have been assisting with the soldier’s legal fees. Earlier, during this week’s pre-trial hearing, those in the Ft. Meade, Maryland, courtroom were told that Manning hoped releasing intelligence to WikiLeaks would “spark a domestic debate on the role of our military and foreign policy in general.” Last year, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange credited the materials attributed to Manning with helping end the US war in Iraq.
“If Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero and invaluable to all of us,” Assange said during a December address penned from London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. “It was WikiLeaks’ revelations — not the actions of President Obama — that forced the US administration out of the Iraq War… By exposing the killing of Iraqi children, WikiLeaks directly motivated the Iraqi government to strip the US military of legal immunity, which in turn forced the US withdrawal.”
Among the materials attributed to Manning are Pentagon logs referred to today as the ‘Iraq and Afghan War Diaries,’ as well as video published by WikiLeaks under the title ‘Collateral Murder.’ With that release, WikiLeaks showed US soldiers onboard an Apache helicopter opening fire on Iraqi civilians, including a Reuters photographer.
“This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare,” Manning allegedly said about the footage.
According to the soldier’s support network, “Manning’s testimony this Thursday will speak to larger issues affecting his case as a whole, and expands upon a plea proffering responsibility for releasing information with noble motive, while contesting the most serious charges.”
“The plea gives Bradley an opportunity to take responsibility for releasing some documents to WikiLeaks while opposing the way that the government has charged him,” explained the network’s editor Nathan Fuller. Before the plea is formally entered, though, Manning will have a colloquy, or a private counsel with the presiding judge. “The colloquy gives him a chance to explain some of his reasoning at greater length,” Fuller said.
Blogger Kevin Gosztola believes the trial may go no further than that, though. On Wednesday, Gosztola wrote after sitting in on the day’s hearing that Thursday’s colloquy could end with Col. Denise Lind, the military judge overseeing the trial, censoring part of Pfc. Manning’s prepared statement. According to Gosztola, the US government might not want Manning’s plea enter entered in full because reading the statement “could be admitting to uncharged misconduct that could be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing.”
Lind “explained she did not want Manning to read a ‘sworn written statement,” Gosztola said. Instead, he says Lind would prefer for Manning to only answer questions on the stand. “He can try to read it, but I am going to stop him” if the contents are not relevant to being guilty of committing the lesser offenses of entered in the plea, she said.
“He understands his statement and he understands the elements he needs to plead guilty,” Manning’s attorney David Coombs told the judge.
Manning has been detained for over 1,000 days without a formal military trial, and will see the start of his fourth year behind bars this May. The only other time he has spoken publically on the stand was in December 2012, when he testified about the conditions he endured while detained at a military brig in Northern Virginia.
Lind agreed to take 122 days off any eventual sentence for Manning due to the poor treatment. Earlier this week, she dismissed an attempt by the defense to have all charges against Manning dropped over an alleged violation of the ‘speedy trial’ statute.