FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — U.S. soldier Bradley Manning took the stand Wednesday at his sentencing hearing in the WikiLeaks case and apologized for hurting his country, pleading with a military judge for a chance to go to college and become a productive citizen.
He addressed the court 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 as he began.
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 website would cause harm to the U.S.
Manning, 25, could be sentenced to 90 years in prison for the leaks, which occurred while he was working as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. The judge will impose the sentence, though exactly when is unclear.
The release of diplomatic cables, warzone logs and videos was the largest leak of documents in U.S. history.
The leaks included a video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Prosecutors branded Manning an anarchist and traitor, while supporters hailed him as a whistleblower.
Manning gave an unsworn statement, which meant he could not be cross-examined by prosecutors. He spoke for only a few minutes and appeared to be reading from a statement he was holding.
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 U.S. soldiers overseas and what he called the military’s “bloodlust.”
Manning’s attorneys contend he showed clear signs of deteriorating mental health that should have prevented commanders from sending him to a war zone to handle classified information.
Manning eventually came out to Capt. Michael Worsley, emailing the therapist a photo of himself in a long, blond wig and lipstick. The photo was attached to a letter titled “My problem,” in which Manning described his trouble and his hope that a military career would “get rid of it.”
Worsley testified Wednesday that the soldier was struggling under extreme conditions.
“You put him in that kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least,” Worsley said. “It would have been incredible.”
Worsley’s testimony portrayed some military leaders as lax at best and obstructionist at worst when it came to tending to soldiers with mental health problems.
“I questioned why they would want to leave somebody in a position with the issue they had,” Worsley said.
Navy Capt. David Moulton, a psychiatrist who spent 21 hours interviewing Manning at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after his arrest, testified as a defense witness that Manning’s gender identity disorder, combined with narcissistic personality traits, idealism and his lack of friends in Iraq, caused him to conclude he could change the world by leaking classified information.
“He became very enthralled with this idea that the things that he was finding were injustices that he felt he morally needed to right,” Moulton said.
He said Manning was struggling to balance his desire to right wrongs with his sense of duty to complete his Army tasks and his fear of losing his GI benefits and the opportunity to attend college.
“His decision-making capacity was influenced by the stress of his situation for sure,” Moulton said. “He was under severe emotional stress at the time of the alleged offenses.”
Moulton also reported for the first time in open court that Manning has symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome and Asperger syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder.
Also Wednesday, Manning’s sister Casey Major, 36, testified that they grew up with two alcoholic parents in a rural home outside Crescent, Oklahoma. She said their mother attempted suicide with a Valium overdose after Brian Manning left his wife when Bradley Manning was 12.
After looking tearfully at a series of childhood photographs presented by defense attorney David Coombs, Major said that Manning has matured since his arrest.
“I just hope he can be who he wants to be. I hope he can be happy,” she said.
At least 46 international journalists and 78 spectators were in attendance. Many spectators wore black “Truth” T-shirts.