FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning begged a military judge for mercy Wednesday in his first public since he was convicted of supplying WikiLeaks with the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history.
"I'm sorry my actions hurt people," Manning said as he cast what looked like nervous glances around the courtroom. "I'm sorry that it hurt the United States."
The contrite statement marks a dramatic reversal from previous remarks the 25-year-old soldier has given.
While delivering a so-called naked plea
to various charges associated with the leaks in late February, Manning gave a lengthy, methodical narration of how and why he disclosed each set of files.
The hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents included battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. embassy cables from around the globe, and footage of air strikes that killed civilians.
Manning had expressed contempt in his February statement as he described watching fellow soldiers watch the video that would become his famous release, "Collateral Murder," which depicts a Baghdad airstrike that killed 12 people, including two Reuters employees,
He felt that the soldiers were watching "war porn," and likened the zeal of the Apache helicopter pilots to children "torturing ants with a magnifying glass."
Manning had described the leaked files as "some of the most significant documents of our time."
He also defended the release of the diplomatic cables as a way to expose malfeasance in statecraft.
He left such proclamations out of his statement Wednesday. Neither did he touch upon the 23 hours or more a day that a Marine Corp brig in Quantico, Va., kept him alone in a windowless 6-by-8-foot cell after his May 2010 arrest.
Manning had given two days
of grueling testimony
about this treatment back in November when he hoped to have the charges against him dismissed because of "unlawful pre-trial punishment."
On Wednesday, Manning expressed only regret for his actions.
"I should have worked more aggressively inside the system," Manning said. "I had options, and I should have used these options."
Touching upon a theme that has been prevalent in the the defense's case at sentencing, Manning highlighted that the leaks occurred while he dealt with "a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing and continuing to affect me."
Several witnesses have spoken this week about the turmoil Manning felt while exploring a female identity
during his deployment.
"Although a considerable difficulty in my life, these issues are not an excuse for my actions,"
the soldier added. "I understood what I was doing, and decisions I made. However I did not fully appreciate the broader effects of my actions."
The plan had always been "to help people," he said.
Noting that the "last few years have been a learning experience," he added: "I know I can be a better person."
Manning faces up to 90 years
in prison for violations
of the Espionage Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and various military codes.
Earlier on Wednesday, Manning's sister testified about how the soldier endured a terrible childhood with two severely alcoholic parents.
Manning's mother was suicidal and his father was hardly in the picture, she said.
During this testimony, the defense played a slideshow with smiling pictures of Manning petting puppies and kittens, swinging on a swing, wearing a soccer jersey and playing on a computer.