Military court hears closing arguments in case which sees Manning face 21 counts relating to leaking of 700,000 documents
The US government has accused Bradley Manning of transmitting hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks out of a desire for notoriety and a callous state of mind in which he only cared about himself, a military court has heard.
In closing arguments, that were likely to last more than three hours, Major Ashden Fein, the lead prosecution lawyer, portrayed Manning as an individual motivated to seek fame by indiscriminately releasing massive amounts of US state secrets to the open-information website. He said the intelligence analyst was fully trained to know that by divulging classified information to a website, it would become readily accessible to enemy groups including al-Qaida.
“He delivered hundreds of thousands of documents ready-to-use to WikiLeaks, he delivered them for notoriety … He searched for as much information as he knew would guarantee his fame, information that he knew that WikiLeaks wanted to publicly release,” Fein told the court.
Manning faces 21 counts relating to his transmission in 2009-2010 of more than 700,000 official documents to WikiLeaks, including war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables, detainee files from Guantanamo and a video of an Apache helicopter attack that killed civilians in Baghdad. He faces a maximum sentence of life in military jail plus 154 years, on top of up to 20 years in custody for a lesser version of the charges to which he has already pleaded guilty.
In the opening section of his closing arguments, Fein dismissed the defence portrayal of Manning as naive but well-intentioned. “This is not a troubled, anxious and naive soldier struggling with the consequences of US actions” around the world, the prosecutor said. “The only human PFC Manning actually cared about was himself, and his callousness is revealed in his own chats.”
To counter the defensive’s narrative, Fein beamed a photograph of Manning taken in January 2010 in the same week as he transmitted thousands of war logs to WikiLeaks. The photo, stored on the same memory card as the war logs, showed him with his left hand raised and with the attached salutation: “Have a good day” – all of which pointed, Fein said, to the soldier’s “gleeful” state of mind.
Fein set out to prove to the satisfaction of Colonel Denise Lind, the judge presiding in the case in the absence of a jury, that Manning knowingly made US state secrets available to al-Qaida on the internet. That relates to the most serious single charge that carries a possible life sentence – that the soldier “aided the enemy”.
The prosecutor drew on the testimony of more than 80 state witnesses to attempt to show that the Army private was fully aware of the consequences of his actions. Fein screened training presentations that Manning had been shown during his induction as an intelligence analyst that explained various classification levels and his own personal responsibility for guarding the secrets.
“He was trained that the enemy used the internet, and anything that the enemy used against the United States should be protected. He had actual knowledge that the enemies of the US used the internet and WikiLeaks to gather information to be used against this country,” Fein said.
In earlier testimony from defence witnesses, Manning’s legal team has attempted to define WikiLeaks as a journalistic enterprise equivalent to established news outlets such as the New York Times or the Washington Post. The distinction between such outlets and other activist groups is important, as it would help the defence rebut the charge that Manning “aided the enemy”.
But the chief prosecutor in the case attempted to paint a very different picture of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, describing them as “information anarchists”. Fein quoted from web chats between Manning and Assange that remain classified, alleging that within two weeks of having gained access to secret databases in Iraq the soldier had begun actively searching for information that WikiLeaks wanted to disclose.
“PFC Manning saw WikiLeaks as anything but a traditional journalistic organisation … He identified WikiLeaks as the first intelligence agency for the general public.”
In one part of the web chats, Manning wrote to Assange: “Government organisations can’t control information, the harder they try the more violently the information wants to get out.”
Fein continued that setting aside the argument that “sending classified information to an established journalistic organisation such as the New York Times would be a crime, that is not what happened in this case. He disclosed information to WikiLeaks knowing that WikiLeaks would release information in the form that it received it. WikiLeaks was merely the platform to make sure all the information was available to the world including the enemies of the United States.”
The prosecutor tried to discredit the defence testimony from Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor and expert in social media, who previously told the court that WikiLeaks was indeed a journalistic organisation. Fein decried Benkler’s evidence as having been “faulty” and based on “bias and misinformation”.
Once the prosecution has completed its closing arguments, Manning’s leading defence lawyer, David Coombs, will have his chance to persuade the judge. The US government may then have an opportunity to rebut defence closing arguments, before Lind retires to consider her verdict which could come in a matter of days.