WASHINGTON -- The United States government should be apologizing to Pfc. Bradley Manning, rather than the other way around, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement Wednesday.
Manning, facing punishment for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks that Assange has said contain evidence of apparent U.S. war crimes, testified earlier Wednesday during the sentencing phase of his military trial.
"How on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better over the decisions of those with the proper authority?" Manning asked in his statement. "In retrospect, I should have worked more aggressively inside the system ... [I] had options, and I should have used these options."
Manning was held for months in solitary confinement in harsh conditions that have become an international embarrassment to the U.S. government. Foreign governments have cited mistreatment of Manning in proposing to protect fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden from similar abuse.
"First, your honor, I want to start off with an apology," Manning said. "I am sorry. I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I am sorry that it hurt the United States."
Assange said Manning's apology had been coerced by abuse. "Mr. Manning's apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system. It took three years and millions of dollars to extract two minutes of tactical remorse from this brave soldier," he said. "Bradley Manning's apology was extracted by force, but in a just court the US government would be apologizing to Bradley Manning. As over 100,000 signatories of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination attest, Bradley Manning has changed the world for the better. He remains a symbol of courage and humanitarian resistance."
The full statement from Assange:
Today Bradley Manning reportedly made a statement of remorse in a sentencing hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning's statement comes towards the end of a court martial trial pursued with unprecedented prosecutorial zeal.
Since his arrest, Mr. Manning has been an emblem of courage and endurance in the face of adversity. He has resisted extraordinary pressure. He has been held in solitary confinement, stripped naked and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by the United States government. His constitutional right to a speedy trial has been ignored. He has sat for three years in pretrial detention, while the government assembled 141 witnesses and withheld thousands of documents from his lawyers.
The government has denied him the right to conduct a basic whistleblower defense. It overcharged him until he faced over a century in prison and barred all but a handful of his witnesses. He was denied the right at trial to argue that no harm was caused by his alleged actions. His defence team was pre-emptively banned from describing his intent or showing that his actions harmed no one.
Despite these obstacles, Mr. Manning and his defense team have fought at every step. Last month, he was eventually convicted of charges carrying up to 90 years of prison time. The US government admitted that his actions did not physically harm a single person, and he was acquitted of "aiding the enemy." His convictions solely relate to his alleged decision to inform the public of war crimes and systematic injustice.
But Mr. Manning's options have run out. The only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning's humiliation. In light of this, Mr. Manning's forced decision to apologise to the US government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding.
Mr. Manning's apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system. It took three years and millions of dollars to extract two minutes of tactical remorse from this brave soldier.
Bradley Manning's apology was extracted by force, but in a just court the US government would be apologizing to Bradley Manning. As over 100,000 signatories of his Nobel Peace Prize nomination attest, Bradley Manning has changed the world for the better. He remains a symbol of courage and humanitarian resistance.
Mr. Manning's apology shows that as far as his sentencing is concerned there are still decades to play for. Public pressure on Bradley Manning's military court must intensify in these final days before the sentencing decision against him is made.
WikiLeaks continues to support Bradley Manning, and will continue to campaign for his unconditional release.