Sentencing of WikiLeaks Source Must Send a Message, Lawyer Says
FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning should not serve an effective life sentence as prosecutors have recommended, defense attorneys told the military court Monday.
With Manning's acquittal of aiding the enemy and convictions under the Espionage Act and other laws, prosecutors have called for the 25-year-old soldier to face a sentence of 60 years in prison for disclosing the biggest trove of confidential files in U.S. history, including battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables from around the globe, and profiles of Guantanamo detainees.
Manning has said for months that he made the disclosures to provoke debate about the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and warfare, and that he carefully selected categories of files that he believed would not damage national security.
Indeed, the prosecution's sentencing case could not trace a single death to any particular disclosure. Witnesses offered evidence that the U.S. government minimized the risk of harm by shuttling people out of harm's way if their names were disclosed by the leaked cables, and conducted a nine-month operation to warn Afghan villagers about the risk of possible retribution. The United States "moved heaven and earth" to protect exposed sources in some of these cases, according to Capt. Joe Morrow, an Army prosecutor.
The court heard "concrete examples" of harm during classified session, he added.
Manning's attorney David Coombs characterized the testimony of these witnesses as "speculative at best," and said that to call these impacts "ongoing, or continuing, or getting worse as time goes by is to ignore reality."
However, Coombs added: "Whenever you're talking about more than 700,000 pages of documents, something that Pfc. Manning could not have read in their entirety, certainly there are risks."
During the sentencing phase, the court closed testimony for every mention of a particular diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. Supporters of Manning have pointed to the role they believe the disclosures have played in the toppling of Western-backed autocrats during the so-called Arab Spring, bringing the Iraq War to an end, and uncovering information about civilian deaths and drone warfare.
Instead of touching upon these points, his defense attorneys focused on Manning's psychological state and the alleged failures of his chain of command. The court heard testimony that Manning sent distraught emails about his gender identity and displayed visible emotional turmoil that went ignored by his supervisors.
One of these supervisors, former Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, found Manning huddled on the floor of the supply room after having carved the words "I WANT" on the vinyl of a chair. Adkins returned the soldier directly to work.
"The utter failure to take any action at that point is inexcusable," Coombs argued. After punching a fellow soldier in the face later that night, Manning was finally disciplined with a reduction in rank from intelligence specialist to private first class, his current rank.
In an Army investigation that immediately followed the leaks, at least 15 officers, including Adkins, received letters of reprimand.
Prosecutor Morrow bristled at this line of argument on Monday, urging the court to impose a sentence that he said would keep the WikiLeaks source in prison for the rest of his life.
"This is a case about Pfc. Manning, Your Honor," he said. "The Army is not on trial. The command is not on trial. Mr. Adkins is not on trial. Behavioral health is not on trial."
Psychologists called by the defense diagnosed Manning with remnants of fetal alcohol syndrome, a mild case of Asperger's, a narcissistic trait and regression into his "post-adolescent idealistic phase."
The American Psychiatric Association's top expert said that the term is not recognized in clinical psychiatry.
Both parties acted nevertheless as though it were an actual phase of development.
Capt. Morrow said that many Army recruits are in the grip of his phase and use the service to perform their idealism by helping to build schools and protect civilians form sectarian violence abroad.
Manning "forgot about that" because "he had an agenda," the prosecutor said.
Rebuffing those who herald Manning as a whistle-blower, Morrow said: "It wasn't a greater good. It wasn't good at all. It was destructive."
Nor was the prosecutor convinced that Manning's "gender dysphoria" during the time of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" played any role in his decision to leak on such a grand scale. Witnesses recalled receiving a photo of Manning dressed in women's clothes, and the soldier has testified that he was exploring a female identity he called Breanna during his time in the military.
Manning says he now currently prefers to be identified as male.
Morrow said: "There might be people in the Army now who are struggling with gender dysphoria."
A new scientific study indicates that, not only is Morrow right on that count, but transgender people are twice as likely to join the military.
Speaking of Manning's gender dysphoria diagnosis, Morrow said: "The government's only question is why that matters. What does that have to do with Pfc. Manning's crimes?"
He asked the Col. Denise Lind, the judge who will impose the sentence, to send a message to anyone who leaks on that scale.
"If you betray your country, you do not deserve the mercy of the court," Morrow said.
Coombs countered that such a severe sentence would focus on punishment to the exclusion of all of the court's other considerations. He noted that Manning admitted responsibility for the disclosures in his guilty pleas and his apology.
Internet chats show that Manning thought the categories of data that he selected for disclosure were "certainly not our deepest, darkest diplomatic secrets," he added.
The disclosed cables, which were all marked SipDis, were intended for a million government eyes, the court heard.
Toward the end of his remarks, Coombs aimed for the military judge's heartstrings with a slideshow of Manning petting a puppy and a kitten overlaid with yellow text pronouncing him "Young, Naive but Good Intentioned."
In a novel demonstration of the length of prosecution's requested sentence, Coombs showed pictures of the moon landing, Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War from 40 years ago. The lawyers chose a still from Steven Spielberg's "ET" to demonstrate the 1980s, and the romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" to represent the 1990s.
Without naming a sentence length he believed to be fair, Coombs said that Manning should not serve a prison sentence longer than the time it takes for classified information to expire.
Under the current executive order for classified information, that period is 25 years.
After court, Coombs said he was surprised by the harshness of the sentence sought by the government.
"In my mind, I thought the far outskirts of what they could ask for - and really maintain credibility - would be 40 years," he told supporters gathered in the courtyard after Monday's session. "When they said 60 - I didn't envision that."
Manning faced a possible sentencing exposure of 90 years.
Coombs said he would continue working with Manning on the process of clemency but that a different attorney would handle the soldier's appeal.
Asked what he hoped to do with his closing statement Monday, Coombs said deciding a sentence is "a heavy burden" for judges, one that they struggle to make sure is just.
He said he was "trying to give the judge something to think about instead of just rhetoric," and that he hoped he had influenced her to come back with a shorter sentence. He did not name a suggested length either in his court remarks or to supporters later.
It seemed unlikely to Coombs that Lind would announce a verdict Tuesday. Coombs said Wednesday or Thursday are a better bet.