FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — A military judge is deliberating the fate of an Army private accused of aiding the enemy by engineering a high-volume leak of U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors argue that Pfc. Bradley Manning is a glory-seeking traitor. His lawyers say Manning is a naive whistleblower who was horrified by wartime atrocities but didn’t know that the material he leaked would end up in the hands of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
Army Col. Denise Lind began deliberating Friday after nearly two months of conflicting evidence and arguments about the 25-year-old intelligence analyst. A military judge, not a jury, is hearing the case at Manning’s request.
Lind said she will give a day’s public notice before reconvening the court-martial to announce her findings. The most serious charge is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence in prison.
Manning’s supporters say that a conviction would have a chilling effect on government accountability by deterring people from disclosing official secrets to journalists. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a telephone press conference Friday that if Manning is convicted of aiding the enemy, 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.”
Prosecutors contend Manning knew the material would be seen across the globe, including by bin Laden, when he started the leaks in late 2009. Manning said he didn’t’ start leaking until February 2010.
“Worldwide distribution, that was his goal,” said the military’s lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein. “Pfc. Manning knew the entire world included the enemy, from his training. He knew he was giving it to the enemy, specifically al-Qaida.”
During closing arguments, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning was negligent in releasing classified material but lacked the “evil intent” that prosecutors must prove to convict him of aiding the enemy.
After Coombs finished his three-hour-long argument, there was a smattering of applause from Manning supporters, who were quickly hushed by the judge.
Meanwhile, Lind banned one of Manning’s most visible supporters from the trial Friday “to prevent harm or intimidation” of trial participants. An Army spokeswoman said the subject was a member of the media who posted threatening messages online. Clark Stoeckley, a college art instructor from New Jersey, confirmed he was the one booted.
Stoeckley attended the court-martial as a sketch artist, arriving each day in a white box truck with bold words painted on the sides: “WikiLeaks TOP SECRET Mobile Information Collection Unit.”
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.
Inside the courtroom, a few spectators smiled — as did Manning — when Coombs mocked the testimony of a former supervisor who had said Manning told her the American flag meant nothing to him and that she suspected before they deployed to Iraq that Manning was a spy. Coombs noted that she had not written up a report on Manning’s alleged disloyalty, though had written ones on him taking too many smoke breaks and drinking too much coffee.
Manning also faces federal espionage, theft and computer fraud charges. The Crescent, Okla., native 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.
After his arrest in May 2010, Manning was held alone for nine months in a windowless cell 23 hours a day, sometimes with no clothing. Jailers at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., said they considered him a suicide risk. Lind later ruled Manning had been illegally punished and should get 112 days off any prison sentence he receives.
Coombs’ courtroom style was usually deferential and mild-mannered, but he ratcheted up his comments for the closing arguments.
Coombs called the government’s final remarks “a diatribe … fictional … fantastical,” and said it leaped to conclusions and contradicted itself in areas where prosecutors could not prove something with facts.
The defense attorney also countered one of Fein’s arguments that attempted to show Manning was seeking fame: A photo Manning took of himself, smiling in front of a mirror while on leave in Maryland. Fein said it showed a “gleeful, grinning” Manning who was proud to have leaked documents and to be “on his way to notoriety,” which he wanted.
Coombs asked the judge to take a closer look at the photo, pointing out that Manning was wearing makeup and a bra.
“What you see is a young man who is cross-dressing,” Coombs said as Manning’s face tightened slightly in a pained look.
“Maybe, just maybe … he is happy to be himself for that moment,” Coombs said of Manning’s struggle to fit into the military at a time he was confused about his gender identity and serving openly was illegal for gays.
Coombs also showed three snippets of video from a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that 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 shocked and 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.
The verdict and any sentence will be reviewed, and could be reduced, by the commander of the Military District of Washington, currently Maj. Gen. Jeffery S. Buchanan.
Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.