Soldier Bradley Manning has taken the stand at his sentencing hearing in the WikiLeaks case and apologised for hurting his country, pleading with a military judge for a chance to go to college and become a productive citizen.
Manning was the source – via Wikileaks – of a series of celebrated stories in The Guardian in 2010 covering the conduct of the war in Iraq, classified US embassy communications and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Manning addressed the Fort Meade court in Maryland after a day of testimony about his troubled childhood in Oklahoma and the extreme psychological pressure experts said he felt in the "hyper-masculine" military because of his gender-identity disorder, his feeling that he was a woman trapped in a man's body, the Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.
One psychiatrist said Manning had symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome and Aspergers syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder.
Manning told the court: "I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States."
The soldier said he understood what he was doing but did not believe at the time that leaking a mountain of classified information to the anti-secrecy website would cause harm to the United States.
The 25-year-old could be sentenced to 90 years in prison for the leaks, which occurred while he was working as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. The next court session, for any prosecution rebuttal testimony, is set for Friday.
The release of diplomatic cables, war zone logs and videos was the largest leak of documents in US history. It included a video of a 2007 US helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
Though he often showed little reaction during the two-and-a-half month court-martial, Manning appeared to struggle to contain his emotions several times during testimony from his sister, an aunt and two mental health counsellors, AP reported.
Speaking quickly but deliberately, he took only a few minutes to make his statement. He appeared to be reading it from papers and looked up a number of times to make eye contact with the judge. It was an unsworn statement, meaning he could not be cross-examined.
He said he realised now that he should have worked more aggressively to find a legal means to draw attention to his concerns about the way the war was being waged.
He said he wanted to get a college degree, and he asked for a chance to become a more productive member of society.
His conciliatory tone was at odds with the statement he gave in court in February, when he condemned the actions of US soldiers overseas and what he called the military's "bloodlust".
Defence attorney David Coombs told Manning supporters that his heart was in the right place. "His one goal was to make this world a better place," he said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the only currency the military would take was Manning's humiliation, and he believed his apology was forced.
He said in a statement: "Mr Manning's apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system.
"It took three years and millions of dollars to extract two minutes of tactical remorse from this brave soldier."
Manning's attorneys contend he showed clear signs of deteriorating mental health that should have prevented commanders from sending him to a war zone to handle classified information.
Manning eventually came out to Captain Michael Worsley, e-mailing the therapist a photo of himself in a long, blond wig and lipstick. The photo was attached to a letter titled "My problem" in which Manning described his trouble and his hope that a military career would "get rid of it".
Capt Worsley said: "You put him in that kind of hyper-masculine environment, if you will, with little support and few coping skills, the pressure would have been difficult to say the least, It would have been incredible."
His testimony portrayed some military leaders as lax at best and obstructionist at worst when it came to tending to soldiers with mental health problems.
"I questioned why they would want to leave somebody in a position with the issue they had," he said.
Navy Captain David Moulton, a psychiatrist who spent 21 hours interviewing Manning at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after his arrest, testified as a defence witness that his gender identity disorder, combined with narcissistic personality traits, idealism and a lack of friends in Iraq, caused him to conclude he could change the world by leaking classified information, AP reported.
"He became very enthralled with this idea that the things that he was finding were injustices that he felt he morally needed to right," he said.
He said Manning was struggling to balance his desire to right wrongs with his sense of duty to complete his Army tasks and his fear of losing his GI benefits and the opportunity to attend college.
"His decision-making capacity was influenced by the stress of his situation for sure," Capt Moulton said.
"He was under severe emotional stress at the time of the alleged offences."
The psychiatrist also reported for the first time in open court that Manning had symptoms of foetal alcohol syndrome and Aspergers syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder.
Manning's sister Casey Major, 36, testified that they grew up with two alcoholic parents in a rural home in Oklahoma. She said their mother attempted suicide after Brian Manning left his wife when their son was 12.
After looking tearfully at a series of childhood photographs presented by defence attorney Mr Coombs, Ms Major said that Manning had matured since his arrest.
"I just hope he can be who he wants to be. I hope he can be happy," she told the court.