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WikiLeaks: Manning says wanted 'public debate' on war

Bradley E. Manning is escorted from a hearing, on January 8, 2013 in Fort Meade, Maryland
Bradley E. Manning is escorted from a hearing, on January 8, 2013 in Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning told a military tribunal on Thursday that he leaked incident logs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks in order to start a "public debate."

US Army private Bradley Manning told a military tribunal on Thursday that he leaked incident logs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks in order to start a "public debate."

"For me they represent the underground realities of the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan," Manning told the court, after his lawyer said he plans to plead guilty to some of the charges leveled against him over the leaks.

The 25-year-old, who is being held in military custody pending trial, said he would plead guilty to ten of the less serious of the 22 charges against him, but would deny aiding America's enemies, a crime which carries a life term.

Even if the court agrees to pursue only the lesser allegations, Manning still faces 20 years in military custody for leaking classified material to Australian activist Julian Assange's WikiLeaks whistle-blower website.

Reading a statement to the tribunal, Manning said he had initially attempted to contact traditional media outlets -- the Washington Post, the New York Times and Politico -- before deciding to pass the documents to WikiLeaks.

He sent the organization, which campaigns against government secrecy and publishes leaked information on a secure website, two military logs of daily incidents during the US campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"At the time I believed, and I still believe, these are two of the most significant documents of our time," he said, adding that he wanted to "spark a domestic public debate about our foreign policy and the war in general."

He also provided a vast trove of US diplomatic cables and cockpit video from a US helicopter gunship involved in an incident in which Iraqi civilians died.

Manning explained that he had chosen to work with WikiLeaks as it seemed to him, from what he had read, that the group "exposed illegal activities and corruption" and was "almost academic in nature."

Manning's plea offer was presented to a military tribunal at Fort Meade in Maryland by his lawyer David Coombs, and the young soldier confirmed to the court that he understood the implications of his offer.

He intends to plead guilty to "unauthorized possession and willful transmission" of the video and of documents recounting civilian deaths during US operations Iraq and Afghanistan.

He will also admit "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily" providing WikiLeaks with the classified diplomatic cables.

Judge Denise Lind asked Manning whether he understood the implications of his plea offer: "Do you understand this? Do you have questions about this? Do you still want to go forward with this?"

"Yes, your honor," he replied, before reading out a 35-page statement of his own attempting to outline his motivation in leaking the material.

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