In one of the rare times when he has spoken during his court martial, US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning apologized Wednesday for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents when he was an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
"I'm sorry that my actions hurt people,” he told the court. “I'm sorry that it hurt the United States.”
"I should have worked more aggressively within the system,” Pfc. Manning said. “Unfortunately, I can't go back and change things. I understand I must pay a price for my decisions.”
Manning’s comments, which came during the end of the sentencing phase of his military trial at Ft. Meade, Md., are part of an effort to lessen a sentence that could see him imprisoned for the rest of his life.
The essence of Manning’s defense now is that the young intelligence analyst was so obviously mentally and emotionally troubled that the Army never should have put him in a position of authority in the first place.
His lawyers are attempting to convince presiding judge Col. Denise Lind that Manning’s supervisors and senior officers missed important warning signs that should have led them to divert him from assignments in which he could access and then leak more than 700,000 pieces of classified information, including diplomatic cables and battlefield reports, to the controversial whistleblower organization WikiLeaks.
"You put him in that kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least," Capt. Michael Worsley, the Army psychologist who had treated Manning, told the court. "It would have been incredible."
Manning eventually acknowledged his homosexuality to the therapist, e-mailing a photo of himself dressed as a woman, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick. The photo was attached to a letter titled "My problem," in which Manning describes his difficulties with gender identity and his hope that a military career would "get rid of it."
Manning’s condition, Captain Worsley and others testified, is labeled “gender identity disorder” – a condition (along with other troubling personality traits) that worsened during his time in Iraq when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still the official basis for dealing with gay soldiers.
During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Manning’s sister, Casey Major, described a childhood marked by alcoholic parents – including a mother who drank and smoked late into her pregnancy, suggesting that her brother may have experienced fetal alcohol syndrome.
Worsley said some in Manning's brigade "had difficulty understanding" recommendations the doctor would make regarding the needs of some soldiers. "I questioned why they would want to leave somebody in a position with the issue [Manning] had.”
Indeed, 15 individuals, including commissioned and noncommissioned officers, have been disciplined for failures related to the largest leak of classified information in US history. The Army major who commanded the intelligence wing of Manning's brigade combat team was formally reprimanded, the company commander was replaced, and Manning’s immediate supervisor was reduced in rank – likely career-ending punishments.
In arguing for a stiff sentence, the prosecution position is that the failures of others and Manning’s own mental and emotional issues do not relieve the young private of full responsibility for security leaks that certainly embarrassed the United States diplomatically and may have harmed national security.
Manning acknowledged as much Wednesday.
“At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues – issues that are ongoing and they are continuing to affect me,” he said.
“Although they have caused me considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions,” Manning said. “I understood what I was doing and the decisions I made. However, I did not truly appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those effects are clearer to me now through both self-reflection during my confinement in its various forms and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.”
Manning, who was convicted of espionage, releasing classified information, disobeying orders, and leaking intelligence knowing that it would be accessible to the enemy, faces up to 90 years in prison.
His statement Wednesday – he did not speak from a prepared text – was offered as unsworn testimony, which means he could not be cross-examined by prosecutors scheduled to offer a rebuttal on Friday.
After Colonel Lind then decides on Manning’s punishment, his case will automatically be heard by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.