US diplomats reacted with “horror and disbelief” when WikiLeaks began publishing classified information in 2010, a US Department of State official testified on Thursday at the court-martial sentencing hearing for Army Private Bradley Manning, the soldier convicted of the leaks.
To try to establish the extent of damage caused by the anti-secrecy Web site’s exposure of hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic and military documents and video, prosecutor Captain Angel Overgaard asked the official, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble, to describe the reaction.
“Horror and disbelief that our diplomatic communications had been released and were available on public Web sites for the world to see,” Dibble said.
Manning, 25, was convicted on Tuesday on criminal charges, including espionage and theft, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, sparing him a life sentence without parole.
A military judge began hearing arguments on Wednesday in the sentencing phase of the trial in Fort Meade, Maryland, over the biggest leak of classified information in US history. The convictions carry a maximum possible sentence of 136 for the former military intelligence analyst.
Manning’s lawyers, who had portrayed him as naive, but well intentioned, were expected to ask Judge Colonel Denise Lind for leniency. They argued that the soldier’s aim had been to provoke a broader debate on US military policy, not to harm anyone.
Prosecutors had said Manning hurt national security and damaged relationships with intelligence sources overseas.
To solidify their case, on Thursday afternoon Overgaard called State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary John Feeley, asking whether he saw “any impact” in Latin America from the leaked documents.
“I did,” Feeley answered.
The judge immediately ordered the court into a closed session, a common practice in military courts when there is a need to discuss classified information.
The sentencing hearing, which was expected to last at least another week, was set to resume yesterday.
Manning was a working in Iraq in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with leaking files, including diplomatic cables and secret details on prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
On Thursday, Manning’s lawyer, Major Thomas Hurley, asked Dibble whether she always agreed with the government’s decision to classify certain documents.
Dibble said she did not know of any problems with the US government’s system for classifying secret documents.
At another point, Hurley quoted former US secretary of defense Robert Gates as saying that governments in other countries knew the US government “leaks like a sieve.”
Dibble responded: “I would say it makes a good sound bite, but I don’t agree with it.”
She also testified that one of the foundations of diplomacy was establishing credibility, a time-consuming process that involves getting to know people and listening to their views.
“There is an expectation of a certain degree of confidentiality, so a person will not be burned,” Dibble said.