Manning entered his pleas on Thursday, ahead of his June 3 court martial for the biggest leak of government secrets in US history. Though he pleaded not guilty to aiding the enemy, Manning did cop to a series of 10 lesser charges related to misusing classified information.
The documents he released to WikiLeaks, Manning said, "represent the underground realities of the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan."
Manning, a private working in Army intelligence, was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq and charged with downloading thousands of documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos and forwarding them to WikiLeaks. The website began exposing the government secrets that same year, outraging US officials.
‘Domestic public debate'
Reading a statement to the tribunal, Manning said that he had initially attempted to contact traditional media outlets - The Washington Post, The New York Times and Politico - before deciding to pass the documents on to WikiLeaks. He sent the organization two military logs of daily incidents during the US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"At the time I believed, and I still believe, these are two of the most significant documents of our time," Manning said, adding that he wanted to "spark a domestic public debate about our foreign policy and the war in general."
Manning provided various diplomatic cables and cockpit video from a US gunship that shot at Iraqi civilians. He explained that he had chosen WikiLeaks because it seemed to him that the group "exposed illegal activities and corruption" and was "almost academic in nature."
Facing lengthy imprisonment
Manning faces 20 years for the charges he has admitted to. He also admitted to misuse of documents from the US Southern Command pertaining to Guantanamo Bay, a memo from an unnamed intelligence agency, and records from a military operation in Afghanistan's Farah province.
He is prepared to take the witness stand to read aloud from a 35-page statement defending himself against charges of aiding the enemy, but only after the judge rules on how much of it he will be allowed to read.
Under a ruling last month by the presiding judge, Denise Lind, Manning would have any sentence reduced by 112 days to compensate for the harsh treatment he received during his initial confinement. While at Quantico, Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes. After a 14-month investigation, a UN special rapporteur on torture concluded that Manning's treatment had amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June. He is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes in Sweden, but has fears the country would extradite him to the US, where he says WikiLeaks is currently the subject of a grand jury investigation.
mkg/dr (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)