(RNN) - A press freedom group has released the illegally recorded testimony of Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old Army private who leaked documents that came to be known as Wikileaks. The organization obtained Manning's testimony even though the military banned recording devices from the trial.
The Press Freedom Foundation released Manning's February testimony, giving the public its first chance to hear directly from the man who committed the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history. His actions sparked debate on the left and the right about whether he is a hero or a terrorist.
Manning faces 12 charges in addition to the 10 he pled guilty to hoping for a lesser sentence, the maximum of which would be 20 years.
However, prosecutors also want to charge Manning with "aiding the enemy," which could land Manning in prison for life.
That last charge is the one that most inspires the most debate. By leaking information about the inner-workings of the government, including brutal actions by American soldiers, Manning's opponents argue that his actions could have been used by terrorist groups to harm Americans.
Manning insists he never put the nation at risk and he carefully considered the possible effects of leaking the documents. He claims he only wanted to enable a more informed public debate about government actions.
"The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public," he said.
Manning had great misgivings about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and felt that people were not aware of the reality on the ground in those countries.
"I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides," he said. "I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The [leaked documents] documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground."
Manning also said he believed public knowledge of the documents would enable people to question counterterrorism operations.
"I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to re-evaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment every day," he said.
Manning's testimony goes back and forth between personal revelations, such as a troubled romantic relationship that he says added to his depression in the weeks leading up to the leak, and the discomfort he felt at work because he felt different.
But most revealing is his personal feelings about the information he found and how the American public needed to know what they contained.
Among that information is the impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on civilians and American soldiers. Manning said the indiscriminate way in which people were being killed was demonstrated in his leak of a 2007 video that showed American soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down terrorists in Iraq.
The incident in the video resulted in the deaths of more than 12 people, including two journalists for Reuters.
After the incident occurred, Reuters requested the video from the U.S. military via the Freedom of Information Act to learn what happened to their employees.
But the request was turned down and the video would not be seen by the public until Manning leaked it, which caused a media uproar and became a symbol of Wikileaks and the questionable value of the Iraq War.
"It was clear to me that the event happened because the aerial weapons team mistakenly identified Reuters employees as a potential threat and that the people in the bongo truck were merely attempting to assist the wounded," Manning said in his testimony. "The people in the van were not a threat but merely 'good Samaritans.' The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have."
He added: "The dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote 'dead bastards' unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers."
Manning also talks about the frustration he felt about producing false or exaggerated reports for his intelligence battalion.
In February 2010, Manning contends that his superiors attempted to coerce him into treating a document he believed to be harmless as evidence of anti-Iraqi government literature.
After voicing his concern, Manning said his superiors told him to "drop it" and "just assist them and the [Iraqi] Federal Police in finding out, where more of these print shops creating quote 'anti-Iraqi literature' unquote."
"I am the type of person who likes to know how things work. And, as an analyst, this means I always want to figure out the truth," Manning said. "Unlike other analysts in my section or other sections within the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, I was not satisfied with just scratching the surface and producing canned or cookie cutter assessments. I wanted to know why something was the way it was, and what we could to correct or mitigate a situation."
Manning has been imprisoned since May, 2010. The next phase of his trial will begin in April.
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