Trial Dissects Manning's Motives in Helping WikiLeaks
FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Opening arguments at a long-anticipated trial of WikiLeaker Bradley Manning on Monday cast the soldier as a "young, naive but good intentioned" humanist, and a reckless dumper of government secrets who gained the "notoriety he craved" by exposing a wartime database to Osama bin Laden, and other enemies.
Manning, a 25-year old former intelligence specialist, was arrested in May 2010 in connection with the biggest intelligence disclosure in U.S. history - leaks he admitted in part months before the start of his trial on Monday.
To his supporters, Manning exposed crimes and corruption in how the U.S. conducts warfare and diplomacy. The Bradley Manning Support Network estimated that more than 1,000 showed up to a rally in his support on Saturday, and dozens weathered the rain to greet the start of his trial on Monday.
The released files include, among others, diplomatic cables, incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, profiles of Guantanamo detainees, and a video of a Baghdad airstrike that WikiLeaks titled "Collateral Murder."
Apparently for the first time, prosecutors accused him of helping to edit the final video WikiLeaks published. The Pentagon claims that the edit is misleading.
Manning's lawyer did not answer that allegation in their opening statement.
In the past, the defense has denied the charge that Manning exposed a "Global Address List" with the personal information and emails of 74,000 service members stationed in Iraq, and the legal team has disputed the date of disclosures related to another airstrike on Farah, Afghanistan.
Manning previously made the admissions, and the denials, while pleading guilty to 10 so-called "lesser included offenses," reduced versions of his original charges to limit his potential sentencing exposure to a maximum 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors accepted only one of those pleas and otherwise intend to pursue the other original 21 specifications, which include violations of the Espionage Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and "aiding the enemy," in particular al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a "classified enemy."
Capt. Joe Morrow, a towering prosecutor standing at 6-foot-5, used a Powerpoint presentation to deliver methodical and detailed opening remarks for the government. He began with a quotation from Internet chat logs between Manning and his online-confidante-turned-informer, Adrian Lamo.
"if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?" bradass87 wrote.
Morrow said Manning "literally dumped that information onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy," including al-Qaida and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
To convict on that top charge, the government must prove that Manning knew that leaking the information would have that effect.
Prosecutors hope to show this by arguing that Manning's training as a former intelligence specialist gave him insight into the dangers of unauthorized disclosures.
Indeed the training guide, which Morrow displayed for the court, depicts a crude cartoon of a man sitting in front of a computer with unattributed statistics about an alleged proliferation in "terrorist" websites.
Prosecutors also aim to prove Manning's knowledge with respect to his transmission of an Army counterintelligence report that portrayed WikiLeaks as an information depot frequented by foreign intelligence services, terrorists and insurgents.
"Evidence will show that [Manning] knew the nature of the organization," Morrow hinted darkly, referring to WikiLeaks.
Morrow laid out a timeline from Manning's deployment to Iraq through each alleged disclosure, an outline of the forensic analysts' findings, and preview of the expected evidence and testimony.
In sharp contrast to the prosecution's direct approach, defense attorney David Coombs began his much shorter opening statement with a vignette about a 2009 Christmas Eve incident in Manning's unit.
At the time, Manning was "22 years young" and "excited to help" his unit to analyze information to deter threats, Coombs said.
There was a roadside attack that left one civilian dead along the side of the road, but no soldiers were killed or injured, the lawyer added.
"Everyone was happy," Coombs said. "Everyone but Pfc. Manning. He couldn't celebrate. He couldn't be happy. He couldn't stop thinking about the life that was lost that day."
Not "a typical soldier," Manning wore customized dog tags branded with the word "humanist," indicating that he placed "people first" and put a "value on human life," Coombs said.
Complicating Manning's ethical quandary was a "very private struggle with his gender," Coombs said, referring to his client's exploration of a female alter ego named Breanna Elizabeth he used online.
Manning says he currently prefers to be identified as male.
Defense attorneys' mention of Manning's gender identity in legal arguments has offended some transgender advocates, who point out that the issue has nothing to do with leaks of classified information. The bulk of Coombs' argument, however, centered on Manning's professed idealism, not his sexual or gender identity.
Morrow depicted the young soldier's stated principles as amorphous, stating that Manning "advocated for random openness without any appropriate limits."
The prosecutor also claimed that Manning worked at the bidding of WikiLeaks, providing documents the secret-spilling website allegedly placed on a 2009 Most-Wanted List of confidential data.
Coombs denied that and tried to block such arguments as inadmissible.
The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, allowed the government to make its case without ruling on whether the evidence would ultimately be accepted into the record.
Coombs said Manning was "selective" in what he leaked, choosing files with the "American public" in mind.
Out of the "hundreds of millions" of secret documents to which Manning had access, the soldier claims to have chosen roughly 700,000 files that he believed would not cause harm.
Those included so-called significant action reports, or SigActs, which neither name intelligence sources nor signal future operations. They typically contain information that are generally released in 72 hours, Coombs said.
Nevertheless, the government asserts that Osama bin Laden found particular value in these reports and had an al-Qaida member send him a stash of the Afghanistan SigActs, which WikiLeaks titled the "war logs."
U.S. agents found the communications, along with the "complete" logs and some diplomatic cables, in the raid on the al-Qaida leader's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Morrow said.
Coombs countered that Manning weighed the sensitivity of the files and researched how they could illuminate civic discussion before each set of leaks.
For example, Manning has said that he knew from his research that Washington Post reporter David Finkel published a complete transcript of the "Collateral Murder" video in his book "The Good Soldiers," and that he knew that both of the videos that he disclosed had been subject of Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Guantanamo files, he added, contained "mostly biographical information" that could benefit the lawyers for prisoners who were unlawfully held.
In addition, the files "might be valuable to historians to put a true account of what our nation did in Guantanamo," Coombs said.
As for the diplomatic cables, Coombs insisted that Manning harvested files intended for "at least a million" government employees and only after receiving instructions from a superior to analyze them.
Morrow, on the other hand, said Manning did not simply fall upon the documents he leaked, but helped crack passwords, encrypt swiped files and download software to "systematically harvest" them in an automated process.
Though the files fueled months of headlines, Coombs portrayed his client as a bit callow in his ambitions.
"[Manning] was a little naïve in thinking that the information he selected would make a difference," Coombs said.
After the lawyers delivered their statements, forensic experts took the stand for the first phase of witness testimony.