A U.S. soldier admitted Thursday that he gave thousands of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks in a bid to expose what he said were abuses by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan as he pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges related to the leaks.
Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, made the admission in a statement he read during a pre-trial hearing in a military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland.
"I believed the cables would not damage the US, but would be embarrassing," said Manning in the statement, which took more than an hour to read. He said his goal was to "spark domestic debate on the role of our military and foreign policy in general."
The guilty pleas were on lesser charges such as accumulating classified information and giving that information to an unauthorized person. He still faces 12 more serious charges, including aiding the enemy and has pleaded not guilty to them. His lawyers hope the guilty plea on the lesser charges will result in a shorter prison term.
Under the guilty plea, Manning would serve at least two years for each charge, but could face a much longer sentence of up to life in prison if convicted of the more serious charges.
He told the military judge that he understood the charges and that the plea meant he would serve time in a military prison.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon released dozens of pre-trial documents this week in a bid to address concerns about the openness of the proceedings. Manning's court martial is scheduled to begin in June.
While stationed in Iraq, Manning allegedly downloaded documents from US government computers about military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus diplomatic cables from US embassies that contained embarassing information about governments and leaders around the world.
Manning revealed Thursday that before approaching WikiLeaks he tried to give the documents to the Washington Post and New York Times, but the newspapers did not respond.
The WikiLeaks affair also ensnared WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up since June in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Assange, 41, was arrested in London at the request of Sweden in December, 2010. He sought refuge at the embassy in an attempt to avoid his extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations. He denies the sexual offences, claiming the effort to extradite him to Sweden could lead to his handover to the US in connection with the leak of the classified diplomatic cables.
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