A year-and-a-half after he allegedly orchestrated the biggest national security leak in US history, Private First Class Bradley Manning’s lawyers are finally presenting evidence in his defense.
The 24-year-old former army intelligence analyst, accused of releasing a trove of secret information to the WikiLeaks Web site, was unlikely to testify yesterday when a preliminary hearing entered its sixth day, military experts said.
The government rested its case against Manning on Tuesday at a military base outside Washington. Now it’s the defense’s turn.
Though defense lawyers have revealed little about their strategy since Manning’s arrest in Iraq in May last year, some hints have emerged at the hearing that started on Friday at Fort Meade.
They got government witnesses to say Manning was a troubled young man who should not have had access to classified material, let alone be sent to Iraq. They portrayed military computer security as lax at Manning’s Baghdad workplace, where soldiers played games, music and movies on computers meant for classified information. They also raised the possibility that soldiers other than Manning could have used the shared computers holding evidence of the alleged crimes.
Prosecution witnesses who served with Manning said he was well trained in rules prohibiting release of classified information. Forensic computer experts testified that they had retraced his keyboard strokes as he allegedly downloaded secret US Department of State diplomatic cables and raw battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Adrian Lamo, who is a onetime convicted hacker and Manning’s alleged online confidant, later turned government informant. He testified on Tuesday that he had given investigators records of online chats from May last year in which Manning allegedly admitted everything.
Army Special Agent David Shaver and civilian contractor Mark Johnson said they found evidence Manning downloaded and e-mailed nearly half-a-million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and a video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”
The government wants Manning court-martialed for aiding the enemy and 21 other charges. Closing arguments were possible as early as yesterday. Then, a military officer weighs whether to recommend that the young private be court-martialed, which could result in a sentence of life in prison. That decision could take several weeks.
During the proceedings, Manning remained outwardly composed as witness after witness talked about his emotional problems, his homosexuality, and his violent and crazed-sounding outbursts both in the US and during his tour of duty in Iraq from late 2009 to the middle of last year.
Attorneys for WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange observed proceedings as did an Amnesty International representative. A half-dozen journalists were present and dozens of others watched from a separate building on closed-circuit TV.