Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, speaking for the first time since he was charged with espionage for leaking thousands of military and diplomatic documents, apologized that his actions hurt the United States and told a judge Wednesday that he was "dealing with a lot of issues" at the time.
Facing Army Col. Denise Lind — who is hearing the case without a jury — and reading from a statement he held in his hands, Manning spoke for three minutes. He said he understood what he was doing at the time but did not fully appreciate the consequences.
"I'm sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that I hurt the United States," Manning said in an unsworn statement, which meant he spoke from the witness stand but did not face cross-examination from prosecutors. "At the time of my decisions ... I was dealing with a lot of issues."
Manning, 25, could be sentenced to up to 90 years in prison for leaking 700,000 war logs and diplomatic cables as well as battlefield video footage to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. He was convicted last month of espionage, theft and disobeying regulations. Lind has been hearing arguments in the sentencing portion of the case for nearly two weeks.
During the prosecution's presentation, the general who led the Pentagon's review of the case testified that publication of the documents revealed tactics, strained relations with allies and caused some Afghans to stop cooperating with Americans. Another expert testified that the release of the documents helped al-Qaida's recruiting efforts.
The defense wrapped up its case on sentencing Wednesday. The court-martial reconvenes Friday, when the government will decide whether to offer rebuttal witnesses.
For months, Manning has remained silent as he sat in uniform next to his defense attorneys at the court-martial, which is taking place at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. The former Marylander last spoke publicly during a pre-trial hearing in February, during which he read a 10,000 word statement for roughly an hour.
On Wednesday, Manning's statement was shorter and more contrite.
"When I made these decisions I believed it was going to help people, not hurt people," Manning said. "In retrospect, I should have worked more aggressively inside the system. ... I have flaws and issues that I have to deal with, but I know that I can and will be a better person."
Manning's statement followed more expansive testimony Wednesday from his sister and aunt, who described a dysfunctional home in which the former junior analyst was raised.
Manning stayed with his aunt, Debra Van Alstyne, who lives in Potomac, before he enlisted in the Army in 2007.
Speaking through tears, Manning's sister, Casey Major, testified about having grown up in a house where their parents were too drunk to care for their children. When Manning's father tried to leave, his mother attempted suicide and spent a week in a psychiatric ward, Major said.
"Who took care of your brother when he was a baby?" asked defense attorney David Coombs.
"My mom, but mostly me if she couldn't," Major replied. "If he cried in the middle of the night, I would get up and make a bottle or change his diaper."
"Why were you having to do that?" Coombs asked.
"My mom wouldn't get up," Major said. "If I was home, I would take care of him."
Coombs then displayed pictures of Manning in childhood, including one in which he sat on a swing at his boyhood home in Oklahoma and another that showed him sitting at a computer. Major described each of the pictures for the court.
Coombs asked Major what she hoped for her brother's future.
"I just hope he can be who he wants to be. I hope he can just be happy," she said.
The Army's lawyers did not cross-examine Major.