FORT MEADE, Md. — Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, speaking for the first time since he was charged with espionage for leaking thousands of documents, apologized that his actions hurt the United States and told a judge Wednesday he was “dealing with a lot of issues” at the time.
Facing Army Col. Denise Lind — who is hearing the case without a jury — and reading from a statement he held in his hands, the 25-year-old Manning spoke for three minutes. He said he understood what he was doing at the time but did not fully appreciate the consequences.
“I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that I hurt the United States,” Manning said in an unsworn statement, which meant he spoke from the witness stand but did not face cross-examination from prosecutors. “At the time of my decisions I was dealing with a lot of issues.”
Manning faces 90 years in prison for leaking 700,000 war logs and diplomatic cables as well as battlefield video footage to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. He was convicted last month of espionage, theft and disobeying regulations. Lind has been hearing arguments in the sentencing portion of the case for nearly two weeks.
During the prosecution’s presentation, the general who led the Pentagon’s review of the case testified that publication of the documents revealed tactics, strained relations with allies and caused some Afghans to stop cooperating with Americans.
The defense rested its case on sentencing Wednesday.
For months, Manning has remained silent as he sat day after day in uniform next to his defense attorneys at the court martial, which is taking place at Fort Meade. Manning last spoke publicly during a pretrial hearing in February, during which he read a 10,000-word statement for roughly an hour.
On Wednesday, Manning’s statement was far shorter and more contrite.
“When I made these decisions I believed it was going to help people, not hurt people,” Manning said. “In retrospect, I should have worked more aggressively inside the system. … I have flaws and issues that I have to deal with but I know that I can and will be a better person.”
Manning’s statement followed more expansive testimony Wednesday from his sister and aunt who both described a dysfunctional home in which the former junior analyst was raised. Manning stayed with his aunt, Debra Van Alstyne, who lives in Potomac, Md., before he enlisted in the Army in 2007.
Speaking through tears, Manning’s sister, Casey Major, testified about growing up in a house where their parents were too drunk to care for their children. When Manning’s father tried to leave his mother she attempted suicide and spent a week in psychiatric ward, Major said.
“Who took care of your brother when he was a baby?” asked Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs.
“My mom, but mostly me if she couldn’t,” Major responded. “If he cried in the middle of the night, I would get up and make a bottle or change his diaper.”
“Why were you having to do that?” Coombs asked.
“My mom wouldn’t get up,” Major said. “If I was home I would take care of him.”
Coombs then displayed several pictures of Manning from his childhood, including one on a swing set on their farm in Oklahoma and another with an older Manning sitting behind a computer. Major described each of the pictures for the court.
Coombs asked Majors what she hoped for Manning’s future. “I just hope he can be who he wants to be. I hope he can just be happy,” she said.
The defense has tried to connect Manning’s childhood to the mental health issues he confronted later in life.
Capt. Michael Worsley, Manning’s Army psychologist, testified that he initially diagnosed Manning with a personality disorder in early 2010. Worsley said Manning, who is gay, struggled to connect with peers and lacked a support structure in the Army.
Worsley said that Manning opened up to him after an incident in May 2010 in which the former junior analyst struck a fellow soldier while deployed in Iraq. Worsley then diagnosed Manning with gender identity disorder and officials began to consider his redeployment.
“Being in the military and having a gender identity issue does not exactly go hand in hand,” Worsley said. “At that time the military was not exactly friendly toward the gay community, or anybody who held views as such.”
Worsley said Manning’s medical record prior to deployment in Iraq raised “red flags.”
But attorneys for the government noted Worsley viewed Manning as fit for duty for most of his time in therapy.
And while Worsley would have been required to report his findings if senior officials required the evaluations, Manning met with Worsley voluntarily, he said.
Navy Capt. David Moulton, a forensic psychiatrist who has reviewed the case since Manning’s arrest, testified that an individual questioning his gender identity can have trouble with judgment in other areas of his life as well. Moulton said Manning was under “severe emotional stress” at the time he released the documents and that it impaired his ability to understand the consequences of his decisions.
“It can be quite impairing,” Moulton said of gender identity disorder. “Gender is very much at the core of our identity as individuals and when that is off keel — to use a Navy kind of term — the whole ship of your life has difficultly establishing direction and tends to wander.”
Manning, an Oklahoma native, studied at Montgomery College in Maryland before he enlisted. He has been detained since 2010, when he was arrested in Baghdad.
To some, Manning is a whistle-blower whose release of video footage of a U.S. helicopter crew killing civilians in Baghdad revealed evidence of a war crime. To others, he is a traitor whose release of classified materials endangered American lives.