"I am a soldier first, but an intelligence analyst second to none." Those are the words that PFC Bradley Manning swore, probably more than one time. In fact, he probably had to repeat them multiple times, but ultimately he not only failed at both vocations, he actively cast both of them off. Because Bradley Manning could never prioritize anything aside from Bradley Manning.
Typically, it would be appropriate to assume Manning's innocence until proved guilty. But, given that he appears to agree that he is guilty, at least to the extent that he admits to having misappropriated the documents that were leaked to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, that is no longer necessary.
Does this mean that he should be executed? Maybe not. Punished? Without question. For those who argue that there is a vicious double standard, that Manning would not have been punished if he had known people or been a civilian, know that this claim is patently false. In 1987, the same year that Bradley Manning was born, a civilian intelligence analyst named Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to espionage. That was one-quarter of a century ago, and he is still in prison today.
His crime? Leaking classified documents to Israel. Manning's supporters like to claim that the document leak hasn't led to the death of anyone. This is uncertain. Whatever specific damage the leak did is classified and will — most likely — be part of the classified section of the trial. Nonetheless, when Pollard leaked documents to Israel, he was imprisoned for giving secrets to a country that we love. Manning published secrets for organizations like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Haqqani Network to see. We don't even like them.
For those who argue that Manning is some kind of martyr, he is not. He never submitted to the consequences of his actions, but was rather caught red-handed after one of his contacts reported him to the authorities. Manning was more of a modern day Gavrilo Princip than he is William Wirt's Patrick Henry, shouting out "Give me liberty or give me death!" with one fist on the podium.
Leaking the documents to Assange may have made Manning a hero in the eyes of some anarchists — the kind of people whose ideological ancestors used to do stuff like this. But his biography shows very little evidence of anything that would resemble either integrity or moral conviction. The Bradley Manning who released the documents was not Bradley Manning the hero, it was the Bradley Manning who was soon to be discharged for psychological difficulties. Whatever damage the leak did was collateral damage to suit his revenge or his vanity.
We will probably never know the full extent of the damage that Manning caused. Not even those who hear the classified arguments at his trial will know because much of the damage will forever be unseen. How many people will keep silent when they could have otherwise shared secrets that might have prevented the next terrorist attack, stopped a rogue state from obtaining nuclear weapons, or led to the arrest of a warlord who will now slaughter an entire village in Mali or Libya or Afghanistan?
We will never know, but to avoid having to estimate such damage is why information is classified in the first place. Private First Class Manning was probably taught this on his first day as part of the intelligence community. And the fact that he chose to do the exact opposite shows just how well he had memorized that lesson.