Chanting "Free Bradley Manning" and wielding signs that read "my hero" and "Americans have the right to know," hundreds of demonstrators descended on Fort Meade on Saturday to support the soldier now facing a court-martial in the largest security breach in U.S. history.
Manning, an Army private who lived in Maryland before enlisting, has acknowledged leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including diplomatic cables, Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and gunsight video footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad, to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
After 18 months of pretrial hearings, his court martial is set to begin Monday at the Army base in Anne Arundel County.
Supporters came from Philadelphia, New York and beyond to march in the wilting heat Saturday. One man dressed as Manning; others wore shirts bearing his image. Some carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun.
Manning, who gained access to the classified documents as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, told the military judge presiding over his case that he wanted to provoke public debate over U.S. foreign and military policy.
When WikiLeaks and news organizations began publishing the materials in 2010, government officials said the candid political assessments and battlefield information they contained would compromise U.S. diplomacy and put American lives and others at risk.
Manning's attorneys say their release endangered no one. Damage assessments the government performed after the leak remain classified, and prosecutors have argued to keep them out of the court-martial.
Manning faces charges that include violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
He has pleaded guilty to several lesser charges, which could bring a sentence of up to 20 years.
Manning lived with an aunt in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before he enlisted in the Army in 2007.