FORT MEADE, Md. – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning’s fate was in the hands of a military judge Friday after nearly two months of conflicting portrayals of the soldier: a traitor who gave WikiLeaks classified secrets for worldwide attention and a young, naive intelligence officer who wanted people to know about the atrocities of war.
Judge Col. Denise Lind began deliberating on the 21 charges Manning faces, but she did not say when she would rule, only that she will give the public a day’s notice before her announcement. 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 the material 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 across the globe, even by Osama bin Laden, when he started the leaks in late 2009. Manning said the leaks didn’t start until February the following year.
“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.”
After Coombs finished his three-hour argument, there was a smattering of applause from Manning supporters, who were quickly hushed by the judge.
“All right, that’s enough,” Lind said. “This is a court of law. I would ask, please, that you keep your reactions muted.”
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.
“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.
“That’s giving information to a legitimate news organization in order to hold the government accountable,” 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 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.