An Army private charged in the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history offered guilty pleas Thursday to 10 of 22 charges against him and a military judge said she would allow the soldier to read a statement explaining his actions.
Pfc. Bradley Manning would plead guilty to sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, in violation of military regulations but not in violation of federal espionage laws.
The judge, Col. Denise Lind, must decide whether to accept the guilty pleas, which could carry a sentence of 20 years in prison. Prosecutors could still pursue a court-martial on the remaining charges, including aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.
The 25-year-old Manning is accused of sending hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables, other classified records and two battlefield video clips to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.
The Obama administration has said releasing the information threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments. Experts say that by seeking to punishManning, the administration is sending a strong message that such leaks will not be tolerated.
Manning supporters — who held events Saturday to mark his 1,000 days in confinement — consider him a whistleblowing hero whose actions exposed war crimes and helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring in late 2010.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Manning has submitted a written statement about the leak and the motive behind it that he wanted to read in court during Thursday’s hearing. Prosecutors objected to the statement, but the judge said Thursday she would allow him to read it.
Manning has won few significant victories in his lengthy pretrial proceedings, which included testimony from the soldier about how he was deprived of his clothing and told to stand at attention naked while on suicide watch at the maximum-security Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia. He has since been transferred to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
The judge ruled that Manning was illegally punished for part of the time he spent at Quantico and that 112 days should be cut from any prison sentence he receives if convicted.