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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Bradley Manning Hearing Closes|With Call for ‘Reality Check’

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - Playing a video he introduced as a broadcast from al-Qaida's media network, military prosecutor Ashden Fein told the court Thursday that giving documents to WikiLeaks "aided the enemy," a central charge in the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Manning's defense attorney David Coombs urged the government in closing arguments Thursday to avoid a "Chicken Little" response to the alleged leaks.

"This sky is not falling. The sky has not fallen. And the sky will not fall," Coombs said.

Titled "Collateral Murder" by WikiLeaks, the video depicts a July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike in which gunshots from Apache helicopters kill 12 people, two of whom were Reuters photographers.

After its release on Wikileaks, Al-Qaida published the video, according to the prosecution. Fein said the video shows how U.S. soldiers "engage suspected actors."

"Pfc. Manning found and read about harms enemies could cause," Fein said.

Earlier in the hearing, a witness testified that the video was not classified.

"Manning gave the enemies of the United States unfettered access to those documents," Fein told Investigating Officer Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, who will recommend whether Manning should face court-martial.

Arguing that his client was overcharged, defense attorney Coombs urged Almanza to consolidate charges in a way that will add up to a 30-year sentence.

Thirty years ago, Manning was not yet born, Reagan was president and the U.S. assisted Saddam Hussein against Iran, Coombs said.

"You're in a unique position to give the U.S. government something that it needs: a reality check," Coombs said. "Your recommendation will carry considerable weight."

Manning has been charged with 18 specifications, each one carrying a 10-year maximum sentence.

Collectively, they add up to a 150-year sentence, but the government added an "aiding the enemy" charge because it is "not satisfied with that," Coombs said.

He added that the media has "reinforced" the government's response. "A lot has been said about my client, and a lot has been said in print," he said. "He was a young man with a strong moral compass. In your early 20s, you believe you can change the world. ... In your early 20s, when the president of the U.S. says, 'Yes, we can,' you believe that. And that's a good thing,"

Fein called the evidence against Manning "overwhelming," and Coombs did not spend much time denying his client's responsibility for the alleged leaks.

Almanza heard evidence Manning searched the Internet for "WikiLeaks" 119 times and "Julian Assange" four times on one terminal.

A forensic analyst called the files on Manning's computer and those given to WikiLeaks an "exact match."

The defense's closing arguments further explored Manning's emotional state, noting that the soldier felt added stress as a man who identified as female. Though Coombs referred to this behavior by its clinical definition, gender identity disorder, in the hearing, he called that label "unfortunate" on Thursday.

"When someone looks into a mirror, and they feel that the gender they are looking at is not who they are, that is not a disorder," Coombs said. "That is a reality."

Witnesses testified that Manning had explored female facial reconstruction and hormone therapy.

Though Manning allegedly used a female alter ego, "Breanna," at the time of the WikiLeaks publications, Coombs referred to his client by his masculine name and pronouns throughout the hearing.

In arguing that the security breaches went far beyond Manning, Coombs hearkened to witness testimony that painted a picture of lax security in Manning's unit, an environment where soldiers freely listened to music and played movies and games.

"It was a lawless unit when it came to information assurances," Coombs said. "To charge my client with information assurance rules that they did not follow themselves smacks in the face of justice."

Coombs also questioned whether the alleged leaks caused harm, challenging officials to testify that they did.

Quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, he finished his remarks by saying, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

Almanza is expected to recommend whether Manning should face court-martial on Jan. 16.

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