Manning leak case now in the hands of US judge
FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — A U.S. judge began deciding the fate of soldier Bradley Manning, who could face life in prison for giving thousands of pieces of classified military and diplomatic information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in one of the largest leaks in the country’s history.
The prosecution says the 25-year-old is a traitor. His defense lawyers call him a young, naive intelligence officer who wanted people to know about the atrocities of war.
The judge did not say when she would rule, but she will give public notice a day in advance.
Manning faces 21 charges, including the most serious one of aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence in prison.
During closing arguments Friday, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning was negligent in releasing classified material, but he did not know al-Qaida would see it and did not have “evil intent” — a key point prosecutors must prove to convict Manning of aiding the enemy.
Prosecutors argued that Manning knew the material would be seen around the world, even by Osama bin Laden.
“Worldwide distribution, that was his goal,” said the military’s lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein. “He knew he was giving it to the enemy, specifically al-Qaida.”
Manning also faces federal espionage, theft and computer fraud charges. He has acknowledged giving WikiLeaks some 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos, but he says he didn’t believe the information would harm troops in Afghanistan and Iraq or threaten national security.
“The amount of the documents in this case, actually, is the best evidence that he was discreet in what he chose, because if he was indiscriminate, if he was systematically harvesting, we wouldn’t be talking about a few hundred thousand documents — we’d be talking about millions of documents,” Coombs said.
Giving the material to WikiLeaks was no different than giving it to a newspaper, Coombs said. The government disagreed and said Manning would also be charged if he had leaked the classified material to the media.
Coombs showed three snippets of video from a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack Manning leaked, showing troops firing on a small crowd of men on a Baghdad sidewalk, killing several civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Coombs said the loss of civilian lives horrified the young soldier.
“You have to look at that from the point of view of a guy who cared about human life,” Coombs said.
Coombs has said Manning wanted to do something to make a difference, and he hoped revealing what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. diplomacy would inspire debate and reform in foreign and military policy.
Coombs also countered one of prosecutor Fein’s arguments that attempted to show Manning was seeking fame: A photo Manning took of himself, smiling in front of a mirror while on leave. Fein said it showed a “gleeful, grinning” Manning who was proud to be “on his way to notoriety” he wanted.
Coombs asked the judge to take a closer look at the photo, pointing out that Manning was wearing makeup and a bra.
“What you see is a young man who is cross-dressing,” Coombs said as Manning’s face tightened slightly.
“Maybe, just maybe ... he is happy to be himself for that moment,” Coombs said of Manning’s struggle to fit into the military at a time when he was confused about his gender identity and serving openly was illegal for gays.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Friday in a telephone press conference that if the aiding the enemy charge is allowed to stand, it will be “the end of national security journalism in the United States.”
He accused the Obama administration of a “war on whistleblowers” and a “war on journalism.”
Meanwhile, one of Manning’s most visible supporters was banned from the trial after the judge said someone posted threats online. Clark Stoeckley confirmed he was the one kicked out. A tweet Thursday night from an account Stoeckley used said: “I don’t know how they sleep at night but I do know where.” It was removed Friday, and Stoeckley told The Associated Press on Twitter he couldn’t comment.