Wikileaks accused in court

US army Pte Bradley Manning arrives for his hearing in November 2012 at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which he is charged with aiding the enemy and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

US army Pte Bradley Manning arrives for his hearing in November 2012 at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which he is charged with aiding the enemy and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Thu, Feb 28, 2013, 00:00

The US Army private accused of providing diplomatic cables and other secret documents to the WikiLeaks website pleaded guilty today to misusing classified material, but denied the most serious charge in the case, aiding the enemy.

Private First Class Bradley Manning (25), entered the pleas prior to his court martial, which is set to begin on June 3rd, in a case that centers on the biggest leak of government secrets in US history.

"I believe that if the general public ... had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general," Private Manning, dressed in full military uniform, testified calmly.

Reading from a 35-page statement as he remained seated next to his lawyers, the short, slight private described his feelings after he submitted the secret information to WikiLeaks.

"I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience," said Private Manning, who spoke under oath for more than an hour.

At the hearing, Private Manning pleaded not guilty to the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, through his attorney. Manning, who has been jailed at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia for more than 1,000 days, could face life imprisonment if convicted of that charge.

He pleaded guilty to a series of 10 lesser charges that he misused classified information at the hearing before military judge Colonel Denise Lind. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for those charges.

Under a ruling last month by Lind, Private Manning would have any sentence reduced by 112 days to compensate for the markedly harsh treatment he received during his confinement. While at Quantico, Private Manning was placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day with guards checking on him every few minutes.

Private Manning admitted to unauthorized possession and willful communication of information from military databases, including the Combined Information Data Network Exchange Iraq and Combined Information Data Network Exchange Afghanistan.

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 Farah province in Afghanistan.

Private Manning, an Army intelligence officer, was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq and charged with downloading thousands of intelligence documents, diplomatic cables and combat videos and forwarding them to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks began exposing the US government secrets in the same year, stunning diplomats around the world and outraging US officials who said damage to national security from the leaks endangered US lives.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.

Reuters