Manning dumped info 'into enemy hands'
04 June 2013, 08:55
Fort Meade – US soldier Bradley Manning faced life in
prison as his trial began on Monday, three years after he was charged with
providing reams of highly-sensitive material to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks
in the biggest leak of classified information in US history.
Since then, Manning has admitted to giving the material
to WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to charges that would send him to prison for up
to 20 years.
The US military and the Obama administration weren't
satisfied, though, and pursued a charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a
potential life sentence.
The trial on that most serious charge and 20 other
offences started on Monday for the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst from
It's the most high-profile case for an administration
that has come under criticism for its crackdown on leakers.
The six prosecutions since Obama took office is more than
in all other presidencies combined.
Captain Joe Morrow, a prosecutor, said during his opening
statement that Manning dumped classified documents on to the internet and into
the enemy hands.
"This is a case of about what happens when arrogance
meets access to sensitive information," Morrow said.
Hero vs traitor
Manning's supporters hail him as a whistle-blowing hero
and political prisoner.
Others say he is a traitor who endangered lives and
"This, your honour, this is a case about a soldier
who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified
databases and then dumped that information on to the internet into the hands of
the enemy," Morrow said.
Manning has said he did not believe the information would
harm the US and he wanted to start a debate on the role of the military and foreign
Manning, a slightly built soldier, sat calmly in the
courtroom in his dark green dress uniform as the trial began.
He chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge
instead of a jury. It is expected to run all summer.
In February, Manning told military judge Army Colonel
Denise Lind he leaked the material to expose the American military's
"bloodlust" and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The judge accepted his guilty plea to reduced charges for
about half of the alleged offences, but prosecutors did not and moved
forward with a court-martial on charges including violations of the Espionage
Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
About 20 Manning supporters demonstrated in the rain
outside the visitor gate at Fort Meade.
They waved signs reading "free Bradley Manning"
and "protect the truth" while chanting "What do want? Free
Bradley. When do we want it? Now."
US officials have said the more than 700 000 Iraq and
Afghanistan battlefield reports and state department cables sent to WikiLeaks
endangered lives and national security.
The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010
documented complaints of Iraqi detainee abuses; a US tally of civilian deaths
in Iraq; and America's weak support for the government of Tunisia - a
disclosure Manning supporters said encouraged the popular uprising that ousted
the Tunisian president in 2011, and helped trigger the Middle Eastern
pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
Last month, the government agreed to accept Manning's guilty
plea for a lesser version of one count, involving a single diplomatic cable
summarising US embassy discussions with Icelandic officials about the country's
Manning also acknowledged sending WikiLeaks unclassified
video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians, including a
An internal military investigation concluded the troops
reasonably mistook the camera equipment for weapons; WikiLeaks dubbed the video Collateral Murder.
The release of the cables and video embarrassed the US
and its allies.
The Obama administration has said it threatened valuable
military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other
governments, but the specific amount of damage hasn't been publicly revealed
and probably won't be during the trial.
Lind ruled the extent of any damage is irrelevant. Defence
attorney David Coombs contends it was minimal.
Much of the evidence is classified, which means large
portions of the trial are likely to be closed to reporters and the public.
Lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told Lind in February
that more than half of the government's 141 anticipated witnesses would testify
about classified information, which would close up to 30% of the trial.
The judge tested alternatives to closing the courtroom,
such as using code words and unclassified summaries, but Lind said it didn't
Prosecutors revealed plans earlier this year to call a
member of the Navy Seal team that raided Osama bin Laden's compound in 2011.
He was to testify in closed court, in disguise, that he
found digital evidence indicating the al-Qaeda leader saw some of the material
He will likely be scratched, though, if Lind accepts an
agreement the lawyers announced last month to offer the bin Laden evidence
without the testimony.
The court-martial's high degree of secrecy, including
refusals to promptly release even routine filings and rulings, has fuelled
protests by Manning supporters.
The Bradley Manning Support Network says it has raised
more than $1.1m for his defence and public outreach.
Supporters include documentary filmmaker Michael Moore,
musician Graham Nash, actor John Cusack and Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel
Ellsberg, a former military analyst, has said Manning's
disclosures may be more significant than his own leak of a top-secret history
of the Vietnam War expansion in 1971.
Manning's case gained even more attention when human
rights groups and the UN's chief torture investigator complained about his pre-trial
confinement at a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia.
For nine months, Manning was held alone in a windowless
cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing.
Officials said it was to keep him from hurting himself or
Lind ruled Manning had been illegally punished and should
get 112 days off any prison sentence he receives.
Manning was moved in April 2011 to less restrictive
conditions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
His case has also led to films.
In a documentary released last month, Manning was
portrayed sympathetically in We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.
The film left an unflattering impression of WikiLeaks
founder Julian Assange, who is the subject of a separate federal investigation
into whether he can be prosecuted for publishing the information Manning
Manning told the court he corresponded online with
someone he believed to be Assange but never confirmed the person's identity.
WikiLeaks has been careful never to confirm or deny
Manning was the source of the documents.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in
London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations.