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Prosecution, Defense in Manning Case Make Closing Arguments

By David Vergun
Army News Service

FORT MEADE, Md., July 29, 2013 – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning's release of classified material did immeasurable harm to national security and put lives at risk, the prosecutor in the soldier’s court-martial here said during his closing arguments July 25.

The next day though, Manning's defense attorney argued the accused was a young, naïve but well-intentioned soldier who wanted to make a difference for the better by bringing to light wrongs that were done during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Manning, now 25, was an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, working in a tactical-sensitive compartmented information facility, or T-SCIF, at Forward Operating Base Hammer near Baghdad. A SCIF is a restricted facility where secret materials are transmitted, collected and analyzed.

The prosecutor, Army Maj. Ashden Fein, stated that the facts clearly pointed to Manning's culpability, while the defense, led by David Coombs, argued that the prosecution's charges amounted to "diatribes not based in facts."

At the start of the trial on June 3, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 21 original charges regarding having leaked classified information to the WikiLeaks organization, which then made the documents accessible to the public on the Internet and through media outlets such as the New York Times, the United Kingdom-based The Guardian and the Germany-based Der Spiegel.

Even the term "media" was argued, with the prosecution saying the WikiLeaks organization was not a legitimate news outlet and the defense arguing that it was.

Despite Manning's guilty plea to 10 of the charges, prosecutors went forward with the other 11 charges against him. Those charges stated that he leaked secret documents that he clearly knew from his intelligence training to be harmful to the United States and would result in putting lives at risk.

The charges to which Manning pleaded guilty could result in a maximum possible prison sentence of 20 years. The most serious of the 11 other contested charges, "aiding the enemy," could result in a life sentence if the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, finds him guilty and gives him the maximum penalty. Even if she finds Manning guilty, his sentence will be reviewed by the Military District of Washington commander, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffery S. Buchanan.

Manning chose to have a trial by the judge alone, rather than a trial by a panel, which is the military's version of a jury.

Manning's rigorous and thorough training as an intelligence analyst instilled in him the importance significant activities, or SIGACTS, have on whether soldiers succeed in battle, fail or are killed, said Fein, the prosecutor.

Yet despite this knowledge, Manning downloaded some 470,000 SIGACTS from the SIPRNET to a memory card, which he later transferred to his home computer. Some 380,000 documents were from Iraq, and 90,000 were from Afghanistan.

The SIPRNET is the military's classified section of the Internet.

In addition to SIGACTS, Manning released Apache attack helicopter videos and thousands of State Department cables, Fein said. A SIGACT, he explained, could include anything from where an attack or improvised explosives device detonated to how an attack helicopter engages the enemy and numbers of casualties resulting from an ambush or IED.

He said commanders decide their main supply routes, plan their battles and base other tactical decisions on SIGACTS, which are even plotted on maps to provide a clear picture of where dangers, as well as where opportunities lie.

If the enemy gets these SIGACTS, they will have access to the Army's "playbook" and can then deduce the tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTP, used and can devise effective countermeasures or adjust fires, Fein said.

A number of foreign governments would gladly pay millions of dollars to have this sort of information, Fein added.

Having released the information soon after deploying to Iraq, Manning "basked in the amount of press he was receiving" and even posed and smiled in a photo he had taken of himself, holding his memory card containing the data, Fein said.

He clearly was on an ego trip and knew the information he'd released would harm U.S. national security, Fein said, adding that Manning even wiped his machine seven times during a three-hour period to ensure his tracks were covered. Wiping a machine means deleting everything on it. Traces of information often remain so multiple wipes are preferred as a more effective scrub.

In short, Fein said, Manning "wanted to be hailed as famous" without regard for the lives of his fellow soldiers. "The flag meant nothing to him," he added.

Coombs, Manning’s attorney, said Manning had access to the entire SIPRNET, which contains millions of documents, and that he probably could have downloaded and released the entire SIPRNET. Yet, he selectively chose to download and pass on only those secret documents that he felt would show how U.S. policy exploited third-world countries and harmed a lot of innocent lives, he said.

If Americans learned about what their government was doing, Manning truly believed they'd see the light and demand changes, Coombs said.

Coombs argued as well that classified documents were arbitrarily labeled "secret," and that most released by Manning could arguably be deemed appropriate for declassification by any reasonable person.

Far from being a traitor, Manning was acting in a way he thought was patriotic, Coombs said, citing recorded conversations Manning had with his friend Lauren McNamara, and with Adrian Lamo, the man who ultimately turned him in to the FBI.

Wiping his computer seven times was normal procedure, Coombs said, as the software often got corrupted and had to be reinstalled. Additionally, Manning continued to use his computer to gain classified materials for several months and never subsequently wiped it, the defense attorney said.

As to TTPs, playbook and SIGACTS, Coombs said those and other terms are "buzzwords" designed to cast aspersions on Manning. In fact, the enemy already was adjusting fires and adapting based on their own observations, and doing so effectively, he said.

Coombs said WikiLeaks was a legitimate news organization, having been recognized with journalistic awards, vetting its sources and publishing information that turned out to be highly accurate. The press, including WikiLeaks, has a responsibility to provide government oversight as part of its Constitutional 1st Amendment rights, he added.

The Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s 1974 resignation never would have been brought to light had it not been for intrepid journalists, the defense attorney told the judge.

Coombs concluded that there is absolutely zero proof Manning ever even hinted that he was knowingly aiding the enemy. "He really did care what happened to people and hoped to spark a worldwide debate with discussions and reforms," he said.

In addition to the charge of "aiding the enemy," which carries a life sentence, the 20 other charges Manning faces could result in a combined maximum sentence of 154 years in prison. 

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