Manning leak case now in the hands of US judge

FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — U.S. soldier Bradley Manning’s fate was in the hands of a military judge Friday after nearly two months of conflicting portrayals: a traitor who gave the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks thousands of classified secrets for worldwide attention and a young, naive intelligence officer who wanted people to know about the atrocities of war.

The judge said she will start deliberating Friday night on the 21 charges Manning faces, but she did not say when she would rule. The most serious charge is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence in prison.

During closing arguments, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning was negligent in releasing classified material, but he did not know al-Qaida would see it and did not have “evil intent” — a key point prosecutors must prove to convict Manning of aiding the enemy.

Prosecutors contended Manning, 25, knew the material would be seen around the world, even by Osama bin Laden, when he started the leaks in late 2009. Manning said the leaks didn’t start until February of the following year.

“Worldwide distribution, that was his goal,” said the military’s lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein. “He knew he was giving it to the enemy, specifically al-Qaida.”

After Coombs finished his final argument, there was some applause from Manning supporters, who were quickly hushed by the judge.

Meanwhile, one of Manning’s most visible supporters was banned from the trial after the judge said someone posted threats online. Clark Stoeckley confirmed he was the one kicked out. A tweet Thursday night from an account Stoeckley used said: “I don’t know how they sleep at night but I do know where.” It was removed Friday, and Stoeckley told The Associated Press on Twitter he couldn’t comment.

Manning also faces federal espionage, theft and computer fraud charges. He has acknowledged giving WikiLeaks some 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos, but he says he didn’t believe the information would harm troops in Afghanistan and Iraq or threaten national security.

“The amount of the documents in this case, actually, is the best evidence that he was discreet in what he chose, because if he was indiscriminate, if he was systematically harvesting, we wouldn’t be talking about a few hundred thousand documents — we’d be talking about millions of documents,” Coombs said.

Giving the material to WikiLeaks was no different than giving it to a newspaper, Coombs said. The government disagreed and said Manning would also be charged if he had leaked the classified material to the media.

Coombs also showed three snippets of video from a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack Manning leaked, showing troops firing on a small crowd of men on a Baghdad sidewalk, killing several civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Coombs said the loss of civilian lives horrified the young soldier.

“You have to look at that from the point of view of a guy who cared about human life,” Coombs said.

Coombs has said Manning was troubled by what he saw in the war — and was struggling as a gay man in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” before the U.S. military came to terms with homosexuality in the ranks.

Those struggles made Manning want to do something to make a difference, and he hoped revealing what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. diplomacy would inspire debate and reform in foreign and military policy.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Friday in a telephone press conference that if the aiding the enemy charge is allowed to stand, it will be “the end of national security journalism in the United States.”

He accused the Obama administration of a “war on whistleblowers” and a “war on journalism.”

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