The charges Manning pleaded guilty to were lesser offenses and carry a combined maximum sentence of 20 years. In terms of the more serious charges, if convicted of aiding the enemy, Manning could be imprisoned for life.
Manning confirmed he was Wikileaks' main source for the following:
- The so-called "collateral murder" video of an Apache helicopter attack in Iraq;
- Some US diplomatic cables including one of the early WikiLeaks publications
- The Reykjavik cable
- Portions -- apparently, not all -- of the Iraq and Afghanistan warlogs
- Some of the files on detainees in Guantanamo
- Two intelligence memos.
Perhaps the most interesting thing he said is that he did not go to Wikileaks first. Instead, Manning said, he attempted to go to media outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, but he said the Post reporter seemed disinterested, and his calls to the Times were routed to voicemail and those calls were not returned.
He added that “No one associated with WLO (Wikileaks) pressured me into sending any more information. I take full responsibility.”
Manning said that the only leaked material that gave him pause were the diplomatic cables. He portrayed the information in the cables as documenting “back-room deals and seemingly criminal activity.” However, he decided to moved forward after discovering that the most sensitive cables were not in the database he had downloaded. “I believed the public release of these cables would not damage the United States. However, I did believe the release of the cables might be embarrassing.”
Eventually, Manning was turned in by a former hacker that he bragged to, online. He has been held in detention for over 1,000 days, but has also become an example of someone helping to foster open information and civil liberties. Manning was even nominated, in November of 2012, for a Nobel Peace Prize after being widely credited for helping to spark the Arab Spring of 2010.
As he confessed to his crimes -- or at least those he pleaded guilty to -- the judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked him to explain how he could plead guilty, thus admitting wrongdoing, if he was motivated by doing the “greater good,” in terms of enlightening the public.
To that, Manning replied, “Your Honor, regardless of my opinion or my assessment of documents such as these, it’s beyond my pay grade -- it’s not [in] my authority to make these decisions” about releasing confidential files.
As part of Thursday's plea, Manning has also requested to be tried by a military judge, rather than by the military equivalent of a jury. His court-martial is currently scheduled for June 3.