US soldier Bradley Manning, taking the stand at his sentencing hearing in the WikiLeaks case, apologized for hurting his country and pleaded with a military judge for a chance to go to college and become a productive citizen.
He addressed the court on Wednesday after a day of testimony about his troubled childhood in Oklahoma and the extreme psychological pressure that experts said he felt in the “hyper-masculine” military because of his gender-identity disorder — his feeling that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body.
One psychiatrist said Manning has symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome and Asperger syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder.
“I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States,” Manning said.
The soldier said that he understood what he was doing, but that he did not believe at the time that leaking a mountain of classified information to the anti-secrecy Web site would cause harm to the US.
Manning, 25, could be sentenced to 90 years in prison for the leaks, which occurred while he was working as a US Army intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. The judge will impose the sentence, though exactly when is unclear. The next session, for any prosecution rebuttal testimony, is set for today.
The release of diplomatic cables, warzone logs and videos was the largest leak of documents in US history.
Though he often showed little reaction to court proceedings during most of the two-and-a-half-month court-martial, Manning appeared to struggle to contain his emotions several times on Wednesday during testimony from his sister, an aunt and two mental health counselors, one who treated him and another who diagnosed him with several problems.
He said he realizes now that he should have worked more aggressively to find a legal means to draw attention to his concerns about the way the war was being waged. He said he wants to get a college degree, and he asked for a chance to become a more productive member of society.
His conciliatory tone was at odds with the statement he gave in court in February, when he condemned the actions of US soldiers overseas and what he called the military’s “bloodlust.”
Defense attorney David Coombs told Manning supporters that Manning’s heart was in the right place.
“His one goal was to make this world a better place,” Coombs said.
Manning’s apology could carry substantial weight with the military judge, said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale.
“He faces extraordinarily long confinement and if he is coming across subjectively as contrite, I think that may do him some real good with the sentencing,” Fidell said.
WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said the only currency the military will take is Manning’s humiliation, and he believed the apology was forced.
“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,” Assange said in a statement.