Lawyers for the US Army intelligence analyst blamed for the biggest leak of US secrets in the nation’s history are employing a three-pronged defense: The troubled young private should never have had access to classified material, his workplace security was inexplicably lax and the data in question caused little damage to national security anyhow.
It is unclear whether any of the arguments will hold sway in a preliminary hearing at an army installation outside of Washington that was entering its fifth day yesterday.
The case continues after the military released a text file purportedly discovered on a data card owned by Private First Class Bradley Manning, boldly stating the importance of data that would make its way to the secrets-spilling Web site WikiLeaks.
“This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day,” Manning wrote, according to digital-crimes investigator David Shaver.
Almost 500,000 classified battlefield reports were also on the card, Shaver said, making the letter one of the most forceful pieces of evidence against the 24-year-old native of Crescent, Oklahoma.
Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of secret information to WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled US foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources.
By Monday, the government had called 15 of an expected 21 witnesses.
Expected to last several more days, the hearing is to determine whether Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Until Monday, the defense largely focused on painting Manning as an emotionally troubled gay man serving during the army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era when gays were banned from serving openly in the military.
The defense said the classified material proved harmless in the open anyhow.
Manning’s lawyers have yet to acknowledge or deny his responsibility for leaking of hundreds of thousands of US war and diplomatic cables, and a classified military video of a US helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.
In a back-and-forth on the digital case against Manning, the prosecution said evidence showed that Manning communicated directly with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and bragged to someone else about leaking video of a 2007 helicopter attack to WikiLeaks.
Investigators pointed to one exchange in May last year between Manning and a mathematician named Eric Schmiedl.
“Are you familiar with WikiLeaks?” Manning allegedly asked.
“Yes, I am,” Schmiedl wrote.
“I was the source of the July 12, 2007, video from the Apache Weapons Team which killed the two journalists and injured two kids,” Manning wrote, according to the prosecution.
In camouflaged army fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, Manning seemed to take in Monday’s proceedings calmly. During one of several recesses, he leaned back and sat casually in his chair, chatting with a soldier from the defense team, gesturing with his hands, nodding his head and occasionally smiling.
He sat up when attorneys re-entered the courtroom and civilian attorney David Coombs put his arm around Manning’s shoulder several times.
Paul Almanza, the presiding officer, twice removed spectators and reporters from the hearing on Monday for sessions dealing with classified information.
By ruling the leaked diplomatic and military information should somehow remain secret, even though it has been published by media around the world, Almanza undermined the defense argument that no harm was done and the information might as well be public.
Manning supporters fumed. His defense also challenged thousands of cables found on Manning’s workplace computers, saying that some did not match those published by WikiLeaks and that others could not be matched to the young private’s user profile.
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