During his court martial trial, lawyers for Bradley Manning portrayed him as a whistle-blower, and at a pre-trial hearing in February, he said he leaked thousands of documents to WikiLeaks because he felt the public had a right to know. “I believed and still believe these are some of most important documents of our time,” he said. Of course, those strategies led to Manning being found guilty of violating the Espionage Act last month, so at his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, the Army private tried something new: apologizing. “I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry I hurt the United States,” he told the judge, adding, “I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”
Manning, who is facing up to 90 years in prison, said that when he decided to leak 700,000 government documents, he was “dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continue to affect me,” though that’s “not an excuse for my actions.” Those issues were discussed at length in testimony earlier in the day, as the defense tried to present a sympathetic portrait to Colonel Denise Lind.
Manning’s sister gave emotional testimony about growing up in a rural area outside Crescent, Oklahoma with two alcoholic parents. When Manning was 12, his father left his mother, prompting her to attempt suicide with a Valium overdose.
The court also heard from two mental health counselors who worked with Manning. Capt. Michael Worsley, a psychologist who treated Manning in Iraq, said gender identity issues were a major source of stress for him. Manning came out as transgender and said he joined the Army “to get rid of it” in a 2010 e-mail to a supervisor, which included a photo of the soldier in a long, blonde wig. “You put him in this hypermasculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills — the pressure would have been difficult to say the least,” Worsley said. Capt. David Moulton, a psychiatrist who interviewed Manning after his arrest, said he has symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome and Asperger syndrome, as well as narcissistic traits that become worse with stress. He said the soldier was “acting out his grandiose idealation,” and was convinced that he could change the world.
In his testimony, Manning signaled that he now has the utmost respect for the military chain of command:
The last few years have been a learning experience. I look back at my decisions and wonder how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better […] on decisions of those with the proper authority.
In retrospect I should have worked more aggressively inside the system, as we discussed during the […] statement, I had options and I should have used these options.
We won’t know if the defense strategy worked on Colonel Lind until next week, but at least one person isn’t buying it (though he isn’t exactly neutral). Julian Assange issued a statement explaining Manning’s apology:
The only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning’s humiliation. In light of this, Mr. Manning’s forced decision to apologise to the US government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding.
Mr. Manning’s apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system. It took three years and millions of dollars to extract two minutes of tactical remorse from this brave soldier.