FORT MEADE, Maryland (AP) — A Pentagon official testified Friday that the classified information that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning disclosed through WikiLeaks put entire Afghan villages at risk of harm from the Taliban.
Navy Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan said the battlefield reports contained names of individuals and villages that had cooperated with coalition forces. He says it took U.S. service members nine months to fulfill their duty to inform those put at risk.
Prosecutors were nearing the end of their sentencing case in Manning’s court-martial, as just two witnesses remained on the government’s schedule for Friday’s session at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.
Manning faces up to 90 years in prison for disclosing reams of classified information — more than 700,000 documents and some battlefield video — through the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He claims he leaked the material to expose wrongdoing and provoke discussion about U.S. military and public affairs.
Prosecutors have presented evidence that the leaks put some foreign citizens at risk of harm and hampered U.S. foreign relations. Several ambassadors were recalled or expelled. And there was a pullback in interagency sharing of classified information.
The defense case beginning Monday will focus on assertions by Manning and his lawyers that he was a naive, but well-intentioned soldier when he disclosed the documents while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.
On Thursday, a U.S. military expert on militant Islamism testified that al-Qaida members could have used the classified information Manning disclosed through WikiLeaks to plan attacks on U.S. forces, but said there’s no evidence they did.
Navy Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, author of the book “Militant Islamist Ideology” and an adviser at the Pentagon’s Defense Combatting Terrorism Center, said the leaked information included reports of significant battlefield activities, known as “SIGACTS.”
Based upon al-Qaida’s previous use of training materials obtained from adversaries, “one can only deduce that out of the thousands of SIGACTs that have been leaked, they could possibly, potentially deduce a pattern of behavior by United States combat forces,” Aboul-Enein said.
Al-Qaida members could then create countermeasures and plan ambushes, Aboul-Einen said, testifying as a prosecution witness.
The researcher testified on cross-examination that al-Qaida has never claimed any tactical victories because of the information that WikiLeaks began publishing on its website in 2010.
Al-Qaida leaders clearly knew the information was there. The winter 2010 issue of Inspire magazine, published by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and an English-language al-Qaida propaganda video released in 2011 urged followers to look at the leaked material on WikiLeaks. Prosecutors produced evidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had digital copies of all 90,000 leaked Afghanistan battlefield reports in his possession when he was killed by a Navy SEAL team in May 2011.
Aboul-Enein acknowledged that his testimony was speculative. The military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, allowed him to testify over strenuous defense objections. She was to rule as early as Friday on whether the evidence is admissible.
In previous rulings, Lind has allowed such evidence only if the risk of damage or harm to U.S. interests was directly related to or resulted from Manning’s offenses, and if it directly followed the material’s publication on WikiLeaks.