Soldier gave Wikileaks files 'to expose US bloodlust'
The soldier who helped WikiLeaks to engineer the largest intelligence leak in US history defended himself yesterday as a whistle-blower who exposed the "bloodlust" of American forces fighting in the Middle East.
Private First Class Bradley Manning said he had a "clear conscience" as he pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges case against him and admitted for the first time stealing hundreds of thousands of secret files.
"I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan was a target that needed to be engaged and neutralised, but people struggling to live in the pressure cooker of asymmetric warfare," the 25-year-old told a military court.
His guilty pleas to charges of unlawfully storing and disseminating classified information, as well breaching military discipline, carry a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment. Prosecutors are continuing with the remaining 12 charges and will press for life imprisonment as they argue that the leaks directly benefited al-Qa'ida.
The soldier disclosed for the first time how he approached the 'New York Times' and 'The Washington Post' with the archive of US secrets but was brushed off by both newspapers and turned instead to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Pfc Manning described how he decided to begin leaking material while serving as a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009-10, where he came across detailed war logs that he believed were among "the most significant documents of our time".
He also gained access to a 39-minute video showing Apache helicopter pilots laughing during a 2007 attack in Baghdad that killed a number of civilians and a Reuters journalist.
"They seemingly delighted in the bloodlust they had," Pfc Manning said, describing the video as "war porn".
"For me, this seemed similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass."
Describing his motivations for the leak, he also said he had been ordered to help Iraqi police track down a group of militants producing anti-government propaganda.
As he examined their leaflets he realised they were in fact a "scholarly critique" of the then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
When he objected to his superiors, he was allegedly told to "drop it" and help Iraqi police "in finding more of these print shops".
"I couldn't believe what I had heard," he said.
Pfc Manning said he was isolated from his fellow soldiers in Iraq and turned to strangers in online chatrooms, who "allowed me to feel connected to others even when I was alone".
The internet discussions eventually led him into contact with a user he nicknamed 'Nathaniel Frank' but who is believed to be Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks.
The two spent hours in discussions and, over the course of several months in early 2010, Pfc Manning began transferring files to the website. He insisted that he was never pressured by WikiLeaks, saying they were "my own decisions and I take full responsibility for my actions".
The government argues that Pfc Manning indiscriminately leaked more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, endangering US informants living under authoritarian regimes around the world.
He said yesterday he could not be "absolutely sure" that the cables did not include sensitive information but that they largely seemed to be a "catalogue of cliques and gossip".
The case continues. (© Daily Telegraph, London)