US Army file picture of Bradley Manning
Finally, the world gets to hear US soldier Bradley Manning's justification for leaking thousands of classified US government and military documents to WikiLeaks in his own voice. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has, illegally, released Mr Manning's complete hour-long audio statement, which he made on February 28 in his pre-court martial hearing in the US state of Maryland.
In the unauthorised audio -- prohibited by the military court hearing the case in Fort Meade -- Mr Manning outlines his methods and motives for the leaks. He argues he is justified in exposing his government's alleged wrongdoing, human rights abuses, and war crimes. He also adds that he went to great lengths to prevent harm to the US and that he consulted the State Department's website guidelines on sensitive information. (Listen to Bradley Manning's audio testimony here.)
The United States Army has notified the judge of the violation of court rules. "The US Army is currently reviewing the procedures set in place to safeguard the security and integrity of the legal proceedings to ensure Pfc. Manning receives a fair and impartial trial," its statement said.
Mr Manning is accused of getting in touch with WikiLeaks in November 2009. He leaked thousands of US Army field reports and over seven lakh diplomatic cables to the organisation founded by Julian Assange. Since 2010, WikiLeaks has published millions of secret government documents and memos on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The FBI arrested the 25-year-old soldier in May 2010 under serious charges and he was jailed in Pentagon facilities in Kuwait and Virginia before being moved to a Kansas prison. Among the charges is 'aiding the enemy', i.e., Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida. The prosecution though has agreed not to press for the death sentence, which it can under this charge. Instead, it is only seeking a life sentence for the soldier.
In the February hearing, Mr Manning pleaded guilty to 10 other charges including leaking of classified sensitive files to 'show the real cost of war' for which he could be sent to prison for up to 20 years. The formal court martial proceedings are set to begin in June.
In his statement, Mr Manning also comments on the infamous 2007 'Collateral Murder' video that brought WikiLeaks to the world's attention. The video illustrated helicopter strikes by US forces in Baghdad in 2007, which killed a group of men and two journalists. He says, "At first, I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other 'war porn'-type videos depicting combat. The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team seemed to have... For me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants under a magnifying glass."
The Freedom of the Press Foundation was founded in December 2012 by a group of journalists, independent media organisations, and activists to crowd-source funds for WikiLeaks, expose government corruption, and advocate transparency.