Facing life in prison, Manning apologizes for "hurting" U.S., supporters say leaks benefited America

Photo: "Free Bradley Manning" flyer on a pole, seen on 3rd Ave in Seattle, photo by Bryan W. Jones in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool.

Yesterday at Fort Meade, Maryland, Pfc. Bradley Manning spoke in his defense in the sentencing phase of his court-martial. Col. Denise Lind, the judge in this trial, may determine that Manning must be sentenced to up to 90 years in prison for leaking government documents to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. In his statement before the court, Manning apologized for the "hurt" he inflicted on the United States, and referenced the gender identity issues that triggered a personal crisis in Iraq. Snip from his unsworn testimony:

First your Honor. I want to start off with an apology. I am sorry. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States. At the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues– issues that are ongoing and they are continuing to affect me.

Although they have caused me considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions. I understood what I was doing and the decisions I made. However, I did not truly appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those effects are clearer to me now through both self-reflection during my confinement in its various forms and through the merits and sentencing testimony that I have seen here.

Manning's defense is doing what any competent legal team would: trying to convince the judge to reduce the sentence as much as possible.

But Rainey Reitman at Freedom of the Press Foundation argues that while this strategy is understandable, the world should know that the 25 year old former Army intelligence analyst has nothing to apologize for because "The public has benefited tremendously as a result of Manning's disclosures."

For years now, the government may have attempted to paint a dire picture of WikiLeaks' potential impact, but they've also admitted, quietly but repeatedly, that the results have been more embarrassing than harmful.

Even when the WikiLeaks hysteria was in full swing, government officials from the State Department have briefed Congress on the impact of the Wikileaks revelations, and have said that the leaks were "embarrassing but not damaging." U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that, while some of the information may have been embarrassing, "I don't think there is any substantive damage."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted the leaks caused no serious damage, telling Congress that the reactions to the leaks were "significantly overwrought." He went on to say: "Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.''

At the same time, Reuters reported that other officials were admitting in private that they were exaggerating the damage that resulted from the leaks in order to bolster the legal efforts against WikiLeaks and Manning.

This has born out in Manning's trial and sentencing hearing. It's why the government fought so hard to keep its official WikiLeaks "damage assessments" from being revealed in court. It's why, despite all the government's overwrought pronouncements early on of "blood on the hands" of those responsible, a U.S. official was forced to admit under oath in Manning's sentencing hearing that not a single person died as a result of the releases.

Read: Bradley Manning Did Not Hurt the United States [pressfreedomfoundation.org].

Here is Boing Boing's coverage archive of the Bradley Manning trial.

Related reports from journalists/bloggers who are at Fort Meade, covering the trial:

Bradley Manning, family, and doctors take stand: report and analysis: trial day 34 [Nathan Fuller]
Manning, Facing Prison for Leaks, Apologizes at Court-Martial Trial [Charlie Savage]

Manning Gives Contrite Remarks at Sentencing [Adam Klasfeld]

• Alexa O'Brien spoke on Democracy Now today about Manning's statement. Video below.