FORT MEADE, Md. —
The native of Crescent, Okla., digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while working in 2010 in Iraq.
He also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
A potentially more explosive leak case unfolded as Manning’s court-martial was underway, when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was charged with espionage for exposing the NSA’s Internet and telephone surveillance programs.
At his trial, Manning said he gave the material to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks to expose the U.S. military’s “bloodlust” and generate debate over the wars and U.S. policy.
During the sentencing phase, he apologized for the damage he caused, saying, “When I made these decisions, I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people.”
His lawyers also argued that Manning suffered extreme inner turmoil over his gender identity — his feeling that he was a woman trapped in a man’s body — while serving in the macho military, which at the time barred gays from serving openly. Among the evidence was a photo of him in a blond wig and lipstick.
Defense attorney David Coombs told the judge that Manning had been full of youthful idealism.
“He had pure intentions at the time that he committed his offenses,” Coombs said. “At that time, Pfc. Manning really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference.”
Prosecutors did not present any evidence in open court that anyone was physically harmed as a direct result of Manning’s actions. But they showed that al-Qaida used material from the helicopter attack in a propaganda video and that Osama bin Laden presumably read some of the leaked documents, which were published online by WikiLeaks. Some of the material was found in bin Laden’s compound when it was raided.