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Manning: the convicted U.S. spy hailed as a whistleblower

FORT MEADE, Maryland – Bradley Manning, the soldier convicted of espionage for the biggest leak in U.S. history, has always insisted his sole aim was to reveal the true face of the United States’ wars.

The baby-faced intelligence analyst said during his trial that the violence he saw in Iraq drove him to hand over a trove of military reports and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.

But a military judge ruled Tuesday that while Manning did not knowingly aid Al-Qaeda, he did commit espionage, and the 25-year-old could now spend the rest of his years behind bars.

Supporters of Manning present him as a heroic whistleblower. Critics say he betrayed his uniform and his country, putting U.S. national security and the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.

The towering narratives have often seemed to overwhelm Manning himself, a skinny, bespectacled U.S. Army private with an aptitude for computers who has quietly watched the proceedings.

Manning is said to have struggled with his homosexuality while in Iraq and to have displayed suicidal tendencies during his more than 1,100 days spent in military custody, much of it in solitary confinement.

Born in Crescent, Oklahoma, to father from the U.S. and a Welsh mother who later divorced, Manning had a talent for computers from an early age and reportedly created his first website when he was only 10. During his trial, even prosecution witnesses recounted how skillful he was in front of a screen.

At 17, when he was living as an openly gay man, Manning got a job with a software company in Oklahoma City, only to be fired four months later.

He then migrated to computer hacking and even attended events with fellow hackers, a paradoxical prelude to the high-level security clearance he obtained when he became a military intelligence analyst.

“I am the type of person who always wants to figure out how things work. And as an analyst, this always means I want to figure out the truth,” Manning said in his pre-trial testimony at the Fort Meade military base near Washington.

His homosexuality and gender identity issues – Manning enlisted despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military at the time – led to bullying, as they had when he was in school.

Commanders judged him ill-suited to military life, and during training he was recommended for discharge. But his technical skills were perfectly suited to becoming an intelligence analyst and the decision was overturned.

Ultimately he was sent to Iraq where – appalled with what he saw in the reports he analyzed – his motivation for illicitly uploading such material and passing it to WikiLeaks appears to have taken hold.

Manning ultimately leaked hundreds of thousands of frontline military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, the website founded by Julian Assange, an anti-secrecy activist and harsh critic of the United States.

A U.S. Army video recording of two Apache helicopters gunning down a group of Iraqis in Baghdad, an attack that killed at least 12 men and wounded two children, was an incident Manning said “burdens me emotionally” and was among his first leaks.

“They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards’ and congratulating themselves on their ability to kill in large numbers,” Manning said in court.

Such an account matches the view of Manning held by supporters, who say he was a voice of conscience who lifted a veil on what he considered the worst transgressions of U.S. foreign policy.

Daniel Ellsberg – the military analyst who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top secret study that detailed how the government had misled the public about the Vietnam War – has said Manning is a hero deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Bradley Manning Support Network has received more than $1.1 million in donations to pay his legal costs and has campaigned relentlessly on his behalf. Before the trial verdict the group paid $52,000 for a full page advertisement in the New York Times, funded by 850 donors, arguing that he should be freed.

The prosecution presented a far darker view of Manning, saying he set out to harm the country he had pledged to serve.

“He was not a troubled young soul, he was a determined soldier with the knowledge, ability and desire to harm the United States in its war effort,” lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told the court.

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