Bradley Manning
Bradley ManningAFP file

Former US military intelligence analyst Bradley Manning has apologized in court for leaking more than 750,000 classified documents to the Wikileaks website

Manning has already been convicted of 20 out of the 22 charges against him, including violations of the US Espionage Act, reported CNN.

According to prosecution witnesses, he downloaded and leaked 400,000 Pentagon field reports from Iraq and 90,0000 similar documents from Afghanistan, as well as over 250,000 State Department cables.

But military judge Col. Denise Lind previously acquitted him of the most serious charge of "aiding the enemy," and decreased the maximum sentence he could potentially face from 136 years to 90 years.

In his statement at the sentencing hearing at Fort Meade in Maryland, Manning said that he realized that he had "hurt people and hurt the United States" through his actions, but that he hadn't meant to cause so much damage.

"I understood what I was doing was wrong but I didn't appreciate the broader effects of my actions," he insisted. 

Manning has always claimed that his decision to leak classified information was made in order to expose American "wrongdoing" and provoke a public debate over US government policy and conduct.

At the hearing Private Manning claimed further claimed that he was "dealing with a lot of issues" at the time - although they were not an "excuse" for what he did. Manning was presumably referring to his "gender identity crisis," which has been a central part of the defense's testimony. Defense attorneys have argued that his feelings of confusion and isolation as he struggled with his gender identity should be taken into account in sentencing him, citing testimony from a military psychologist.

In response to the apology, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange levelled criticism at the military court, claiming the apology had been "forced" and was an attempt to humiliate Manning.

"Mr. Manning's forced decision to apologize to the US government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding," Assange said in a statement from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has been holed up for over a year to avoid arrest and extradition to the US over his role in leaking classified material.

"Mr. Manning's apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system," he said.