Bradley Manning: I Did It to Make the World a Better Place
Stephen: In pleading guilty to 10 charges of misusing classified material, Bradley Manning says he intended to spark a debate on U.S. foreign policy. But the soldier pleads not guilty to 12 far more serious charges, including aiding the enemy and multiple counts of violating the US Espionage Act.
By Charlie Savage of the New York Times – March 1, 2013
I believed if the public … had access to the information this could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.
FORT MEADE, Maryland: Bradley Manning has confessed in open court to providing vast archives of military and diplomatic files to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, saying he wanted the information to become public “to make the world a better place”.
Appearing before a military judge for more than an hour on Thursday, Private Manning read a statement recounting how he joined the military, became an intelligence analyst in Iraq, decided that certain documents should become known to the American public to prompt a wider debate about the Iraq War, and ultimately uploaded them to WikiLeaks.
“No one associated with WLO” – an abbreviation he used to refer to the WikiLeaks organisation – “pressured me into sending any more information,” Private Manning said. “I take full responsibility.”
Before reading the statement, he pleaded guilty to 10 criminal counts in connection with the leak, which included videos of airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan in which civilians were killed, logs of military incident reports, assessment files of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and 250,000 diplomatic cables.
The guilty pleas exposed him to up to 20 years in prison. But the case against the slightly built, bespectacled 25-year-old – who has become a folk hero among antiwar and whistleblower advocacy groups – is not over.
The military has charged him with a much more serious set of offences, including aiding the enemy and multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act, and prosecutors now have the option to press forward with proving the remaining elements of the more serious charges.
That would involve focusing only on questions such as whether the information he provided counted as the sort covered by the Espionage Act – that is, whether it is “national defence information” that could be used to injure the United States or aid a foreign nation.
In a riveting personal history, Private Manning portrayed himself as thinking carefully about the categories of information he was divulging, excluding the sort that would harm the United States. He said he was initially concerned about diplomatic cables in particular, but after doing research learned that the most sensitive ones were not placed into the database to which he had access, and he concluded that those might prove “embarrassing” but would not cause harm.
Private Manning said the first set of documents he decided to release were hundreds of thousands of military incident reports from Afghanistan and Iraq that he had initially downloaded onto a disk because he needed them for his work, and the computer network connection kept going down. The reports, he decided, showed the flaws in the counterinsurgency policy the United States was then pursuing in both war zones.
The military, he said, had become “obsessed with capturing or killing” people on a list while ignoring what the operations were doing to ordinary people in the two nations. The reports, he said, were not sensitive because they recounted events that were long over.
“I believed if the public – in particular the American public – had access to the information” in the reports, “this could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan”, he said.
Private Manning said he brought the disks home when he went on leave in early 2010 and initially decided to give them to a newspaper.
He said he first called The Washington Post and spoke to a reporter for about five minutes, without going into detail about what he had. He said he decided that the reporter did not seem particularly interested because she said the Post would have to review the material first and a senior editor would make the call.
He said he then tried to reach out to The New York Times by calling a phone number for the public editor, an ombudsman who is not part of the newsroom. An automatic answering service routed him to voicemail, and he left a message that no one returned, he said. He also considered visiting the offices of Politico but was deterred by a snowstorm.
Eventually, Private Manning said, he decided to release the information by uploading it to WikiLeaks. He later sent several other batches of documents and files to the organisation from his computer in Iraq, while striking up an online chatroom relationship with someone he said he assumed was a senior figure in the group such as Julian Assange, whose name he mispronounced as “as-SAHN-JAY.”
Private Manning said he came to greatly value his online conversations with the WikiLeaks person because he felt isolated in Iraq, where he lacked close relationships with his fellow soldiers. For instance, he said, “I lacked a close relationship with my roommate due to his discomfort” with Private Manning’s homosexuality.
But while he “enjoyed the ability to discuss pretty much anything” with the WikiLeaks person, whom he decided to refer to by a pseudonym taken from the author of a book he had read, “in retrospect I realised these conversations were artificial and meant more to me” than to the WikiLeaks person.
He did not elaborate. Nor did he discuss his later online conversations with Adrian Lamo, the former computer hacker who alerted the federal government to the leak.