Charges against Bradley Manning should be cut to 3, defense argues

Story highlights

  • "Provide the U.S. government with a reality check," defense attorney says
  • The prosecutor argues all 22 charges are justified
  • Manning showed "absolute indifference" on classified documents, prosecutor says
Pfc. Bradley Manning's attorney told the officer overseeing his case Thursday that the Army prosecutors have overcharged the young soldier, accused of the largest intelligence leak in American history.
"Provide the U.S. government with a reality check," David Coombs asked in his closing argument. "Tell them they have overcharged in this case."
But Capt. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, said all the charges are justified and that Manning "gave the enemy of the United States unfettered access" to the classified documents he leaked.
Manning faces 22 charges and potentially a death sentence or life in prison without parole if convicted of all of them.
Coombs argued that the charge of "knowingly giving intelligence to the enemy" should be thrown out because there is no evidence that harm came from the leaks.
He said the U.S. government, beginning with former Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, acted like "Chicken Little" yelling that "the sky is falling."
Shortly after Manning's arrest in 2010, Morrell told reporters at a Pentagon briefing "it appears that someone -- if not multiple people -- violated the trust and confidence bestowed on them by their country and leaked classified information, which not only is against the law but potentially endangers the well-being of our forces and potentially jeopardizes our operations."
Coombs also said all five charges connected to Manning's alleged altering of government computers to download the documents he's accused of leaking should be tossed out.
Manning allegedly put unauthorized software on his computer. But Coombs said Manning's entire unit was very lax when it came to computer security or information assurance.
"It was a lawless unit when it comes to information assurance," Coombs said, referring to testimony that all soldiers in the unit had added unauthorized software to their computers.
Coombs also argued that the 16 charges under the military law outlawing conduct "prejudicial to good order and discipline" should be reduced to just three.
If the officer overseeing the hearing, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, were to follow Coombs request, Manning's maximum possible penalty, instead of life in prison or a death sentence, would be 30 years.
Coombs argued Manning wasn't leaking information to the enemy but was letting Americans know what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A hallmark of a democracy is the ability of government to be open with the public. Let's start that today," Coombs said. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."
When Fein began presenting the prosecution's closing argument, he said Manning "abused our trust. Evidence in this case is overwhelming"
Fein went methodically through each charge, linking Manning or his computers to the leaked materials, or chats with Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, or Adrian Lamo, the convicted former hacker who acted as a confidential informant for Army investigators around the time of Manning's arrest.
For example, Fein cited chat logs that he said were of an online discussion between Manning and Assange discussing the upload 700 Guantanamo Bay detainee interrogation reports.
Manning said the upload had been going for about six hours and was about 36% complete. Assange asked how long until the upload would be complete, and Manning estimated about 11 to 12 more hours.
Assange later confirmed the upload was complete.
WikiLeaks published the 700 Guantanamo reports earlier this year.
Near the end of the arguments, the prosecution presented a video from al Qaeda bragging that it had access to the WikiLeaks documents, sometimes referring to WikiLeaks by name.
Fein said Manning repeatedly read and even downloaded and leaked an Army document that specifically spelled out how the enemy, including al Qaeda, used WikiLeaks to learn about U.S. tactics and procedures.
The prosecution also said Manning had seven times signed "non-disclosure" agreements spelling out that disclosing classified material is a violation of federal law.
Fein argued that each and every charge is justified, saying, "Manning's absolute indifference" to rules regarding classified documents "brings discredit upon Armed Forces."
After the prosecution finished its closing arguments, Almanza ended the hearing, which had stretched over the past seven days, including the weekend.
Almanza will now consider the testimony and evidence and make a recommendation as to whether Manning should face court-martial and, if so, on which charges.
The threshold at this level of the military justice system is "whether reasonable grounds exist to believe that the accused committed the offenses alleged."
The special court-martial convening authority, Col. Carl Coffman, has given Almanza until January 16 to submit his recommendation. But Almanza can request more time.
The decision about whether Manning will face court martial rests with the general court-martial convening authority, Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington.
After the hearing, some of Manning's supporters gathered outside a gate at Fort Meade to defend the actions of the young Army private. Daniel Ellsberg, 80, said the case should never move toward a court-martial because President Obama has publicly said Manning did wrong.
Ellsberg, whose disclosure of the classified "Pentagon Papers" 40 years ago helped end the war in Vietnam, said Manning's case involves a "pattern of gross governmental misconduct," the same pattern that caused a judge to throw out the Ellsberg case. He cited allegations of torture against Manning while in custody, as well as public statements that preclude a fair trial.
"It's absurd to suppose that a court-martial can proceed under the conditions where the commander in chief had in effect directed a verdict already," said Ellsberg, referring to comments Obama made last year that Manning "broke the law."
And pointing to the cadre of military officers who are prosecuting and would adjudicate Manning, Ellsberg said "it's absurd to believe they would not be prejudicially affected by the fact their careers could be affected by contradicting their commander in chief."
Jeff Paterson of the activist group Courage to Resist told reporters he believes that Manning disclosed the information because "these things are wrong, they're not a part of the military training," and that Manning was "trying to benefit the world."
"Here we have an Army private who seems, by every indication, has received no personal gain from this, and he provided this information simply to give people a concrete understanding of what our tax dollars are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan," Paterson said.