Private First Class Bradley Manning, accused of leaking classified documents to a whistleblower website, will on Monday begin his controversial and much-anticipated trial before a military court at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, said he gave more than 700,000 classified documents to Julian Assange's WikiLeaks to spark a foreign policy debate and show the public how America was fighting its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I take full responsibility for my actions," he testified in February. "I felt I accomplished something that would allow me to have a clear conscience."
The 25-year-old faces 21 counts and prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917, including accusations that he indirectly aided America's enemies, undermined national security, and put lives at risk.
If convicted, Manning could face life in prison.
"It's probably the most dramatic example of the administration's use of the Espionage Act to prosecute leaks of information to the media," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, told Reuters.
The public has kept a close watch on the case — it is the largest information leak in US history — and protests in dozens of cities worldwide have been planned in support of Manning.
Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department official who leaked what's now known as the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, is expected give a speech at Fort Meade on Saturday. Ellsberg has defended Manning's actions, calling his case a watershed trial in American history.
“Americans who care about the future of our country need to be involved in Bradley’s defense,” Ellsberg wrote in a statement. “The deﬁning issues of the twenty-first century, including the transparency and accountability of our government, are at stake. I believe history is on the side of those who seek to reveal the truth, not on the side of those who seek to conceal it.”