By Tom Ramstack
FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – Lawyers for Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks, sought to show during a sentencing hearing on Tuesday that the Army ignored his mental health problems and bizarre behavior.
Manning’s violent outbursts and his emailing a supervisor a photo of himself in a dress and blond wig with the caption “This is my problem” were signs the gay soldier should not have a job as an intelligence analyst, defense attorney David Coombs told the court-martial.
Manning, a 25-year-old private first class, faces up to 90 years in prison after being convicted July 30 on 20 charges, including espionage and theft, in the biggest release of classified files in U.S. history.
Attorneys for Manning are expected to read a statement from him on Wednesday as they conclude their case in the last part of the trial. Sentencing by Judge Colonel Denise Lind could follow shortly after.
Manning’s court-martial has drawn international scrutiny, and the trove of documents he provided catapulted WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, into the spotlight.
Coombs asked Manning’s supervisor, former Master Sergeant Paul Adkins, why he did not remove Manning from his job as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 when he showed erratic and sometimes violent behavior.
Coombs mentioned incidents in which Manning punched a soldier in the face, carved the words “I want” into a chair with a knife and flipped over a table while being reprimanded about being late to his job.
Adkins said his unit was short-staffed and needed Manning’s analysis work.
“The biggest threat to our soldiers and our operational environment emerged from the Shia (Muslim) insurgent group, which PFC Manning helped to assess,” said Adkins, who was demoted after the WikiLeaks release.
He said he believed Manning was being helped by mental therapy. “I wrongly assessed that he was stable enough to continue his shift,” Adkins said.
Coombs has asserted that the Army’s failure to act on Manning’s mental health problems contributed to his release of more than 700,000 secret diplomatic and military documents and videos.
Under questioning from prosecutor Captain Angel Overgaard, Adkins said Manning was among several soldiers in his unit who underwent psychological counseling for stress in Iraq.
Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Ehresman said that in a December 2009 incident Manning turned over a table with two computers on it while being reprimanded for tardiness.
“I felt as though he was going toward the weapons rack,” Ehresman said. “I grabbed him and put him in a full nelson and put him on the bench.”
Defense lawyers have sought to portray Manning as naive but well-intentioned and struggling with his sexual identity when he arrived in Iraq. His lawyers have said Manning wanted to show Americans the human cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The prosecution has portrayed Manning as arrogant in releasing the classified material and has tried to show damage that the leaks to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency website, had done to the United States.
Judge Colonel Denise Lind overruled three of five defense objections to classified information presented during court sessions that were closed to the public and media.
The judge did not reveal the information but said it was proper “aggravation evidence” of the damage the releases did to U.S. foreign relations. She upheld the other two objections, saying the information presented by military officials was speculative.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Andrew Hay)