Since he was arrested three years ago, Manning has been something of a cipher -- some called the 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst a traitor for leaking more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables, while others called him a whistle-blower, but few knew anything at all about Manning's motivations. His court martial began Monday in Fort Meade, Md.
A new documentary, "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks," reveals more about Manning's thinking at the time of the 2010 leaks, through a series of online chats he conducted with hacker Adrian Lamo. In the chats, which Lamo ultimately shared with the FBI, Manning talked with Lamo about his difficulty acclimating to the military, his struggles with his gender identity and his reservations about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
In explaining why he was considering making the vast trove of classified information public, Manning typed the phrase, "I... care?"
"We Steal Secrets" director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for his Afghanistan war movie "Taxi to the Dark Side," found the material in the chats compelling -- and humanizing.
"Bradley Manning is pouring his heart out to this guy who's mining him for data and is now gonna turn him in to the authorities," Gibney said in an interview last month. "And he explicitly tells him, 'I'm gonna keep what we say confidential.' Well, he didn't."
Gibney originally set out to make a movie about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who ultimately decided not to cooperate with the film. The more Gibney learned about Manning, however, the more he felt the Army private's story warranted attention. The filmmaker did not have direct access to Manning, drawing instead on material from the chats.
The movie, which has been open in theaters in limited release since May 24, expands to video-on-demand June 7. Gibney's distributor, Focus World, deliberately timed the release in conjunction with Manning's trial. (So far, the film has taken in less than $80,000.)
"Frankly I hope it has an impact," Gibney said of his film. "I think the film is very sympathetic to Manning. Having the film launch the week before his trial I hope will be good for him."