The New York Times

August 14, 2013

Manning, Facing Prison for Leaks, Apologizes at Court-Martial Trial


FORT MEADE, Md. — Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing up to 90 years in prison for leaking 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks, apologized on Wednesday for the “unintended consequences of my actions.” He told the judge at his court-martial trial that while he “believed it was going to help people, not hurt people,” he now realized that what he did was wrong.

“I’m sorry that my actions hurt people,” he said. “I’m sorry that they hurt the United States. At the time of my decision, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continue to affect me” — a reference to matters like his crisis over his gender identity, which he was confronting while on a military deployment in a combat zone.

Throughout the case, open-government activists have celebrated Private Manning’s leaks as a heroic act to be admired and emulated even as his critics have denounced him as a traitor. And earlier in his court-martial, Private Manning’s defense lawyer, David E. Coombs, portrayed his client as a whistle-blower, even if a naïve one. But in the sentencing phase this week, Mr. Coombs has elicited testimony that depicted his client as a smaller, sadder figure — a damaged and confused young man whose decision-making capacity when he decided to leak the files was impaired by extraordinary stress.

In his statement, Private Manning said these personal issues did not justify the things he did.

“Although a considerable difficulty in my life,” he said, “ these issues are not an excuse for my actions. I understood what I was doing and the decisions I made. However, I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions. Those factors are clear to me now.”

Private Manning’s three-minute statement to the judge, Col. Denise R. Lind, was not sworn, so prosecutors could not cross-examine him.

For much of the day, the defense sought to portray Private Manning in human terms, from a difficult childhood — starting with his mother’s heavy drinking while she was pregnant with him — to his mental and emotional deterioration while in Iraq.

Under questioning from Mr. Coombs, Capt. David Moulton, a clinical psychiatrist who extensively examined his client after his arrest, described the stress and isolation that Private Manning was under, and framed his release of the documents to WikiLeaks as the immature, even neurotic act of an idealist who thought he could end all wars.

Under such stress, Captain Moulton said, “his abnormal personality traits became more prominent — he was acting out his grandiose ideation, his difficulties during that post-adolescent period. And ultimately, when he came into contact or had contact with the information which he ended up releasing, his decision-making capacity at that point was influenced by the stress of his situation, for sure.”

He also said Private Manning exhibited traits of fetal alcohol syndrome and some of the social difficulties associated with Asperger’s syndrome, along with narcissistic tendencies like grandiosity and haughtiness which became heightened under duress.

Along with Captain Moulton, Private Manning’s older sister, Casey Major, and aunt, Debra Van Alstyne, testified that he had been underweight since birth because his mother drank and smoked during her pregnancy.

His sister, who is 11 years older, described a difficult childhood in which their alcoholic mother was largely dysfunctional and so Ms. Major largely cared for Private Manning from his birth until he was around 7, when she had a bitter dispute with their father and left home. Later their father left and their mother became suicidal. At one point Ms. Major teared up slightly while discussing photographs of their childhood.

Capt. Michael Worsley, a clinical psychologist who treated Private Manning in Iraq, testified that he was guarded at first in their therapy sessions, and that he thought Private Manning had some kind of personality disorder before he revealed he was struggling with his gender identity — at the time it was a still against military law to be openly gay.

“You put him in this hypermasculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills — the pressure would have been difficult to say the least,” he said. “It would have been incredible.”

Ms. Van Alstyne said her nephew had joined the military over her objections because he wanted financial assistance to earn a college degree, and Captain Moulton said Private Manning was determined to try to stay through his term of enlistment lest he lose the financing.

Asked by Mr. Coombs if she wanted to tell the judge anything that she might take into account before passing sentence, Ms. Van Alstyne said: “I just hope that she takes into account that he had a very hard start to his life. He worked really hard. He’s a good person, he cares about people. He just thought he was doing the right thing at a time when he was really I think not thinking clearly at all.”

Nathan Fuller, a representative of the Bradley Manning Support Network attending the trial, said that the defense had already tried the “whistle-blower” defense and Private Manning was still convicted of six violations of the Espionage Act, so it was appropriate to try another tactic.

Mr. Fuller added that Mr. Coombs had also already argued that little harm resulted from the leaks when cross-examining witnesses called by the prosecution, so “what’s left is to see what will gain sympathy and hopefully some leniency” when the judge decides what sentence to impose.

After the session adjourned, Mr. Coombs went to a nearby courtyard and addressed a few dozen supporters of Private Manning. Several applauded and thanked him for his work.

“Bradley is certainly a person who had his heart in the right place and he was thinking about you,” the American public, Mr. Coombs said. “His one goal was to make this world a better place.”

The court-martial will reconvene on Friday afternoon; prosecutors may make a rebuttal case. Colonel Lind could announce a sentence sometime next week.