Bradley Manning's lawyers have begun his defense at a court martial in Fort Meade, Maryland. The intelligence analyst has admitted to giving WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of secret files, but disputes other charges.
Private First Class Bradley Manning is contesting 21 of the charges against him, including the most serious of "aiding the enemy" that can carry life in prison without parole.
His lawyers, who opened their defense on Monday, asked the military judge to acquit Manning of aiding the enemy and several other smaller charges pertaining to theft of data. Details of the motions were not discussed in court.
On their opening day, Manning's legal team aired the famous footage from Iraq of US soldiers killing 12 civilians, two of whom were Iraqi staffers for the Reuters news agency. The video was later dubbed "Collateral Murder" by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks; after a complaint from the prosecution, the full 39-minute video was played, not just the section showing the attack on civilians. In an internal investigation, the Pentagon said that the troops reasonably mistook the journalists for enemy combatants.
The defense team also called on one of the officials who oversaw Manning's deployment in Iraq. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Ehresman said that the 25-year-old was regarded by his superiors as their "go-to guy" for data collection and mining.
"He was good. He was our best analyst by far when it came to developing products," Ehresman told defense lawyer David Coombs in court. Unlike other troops who would need detailed briefs for any given assignment, Ehresman said, Manning "would come up with exactly what you were looking for."
On cross-examination, Ehresman said that though he'd give Manning a perfect "10" rating for preparing intelligence reports, he only ranked him at "5" for his analysis of intelligence because he tended to jump to conclusions.
Ehresman also said that Manning's Iraq outpost had no rules against the installation of executable files on Army computers with access to classified materials. Such files contain a complete program packaged in such a way that it can be directly executed by a computer. As such, it also cannot be read by humans. Manning is accused of using such a file to enable the high-speed download of thousands of classified documents, later handing them to WikiLeaks. The prosecution had argued that this alone would constitute a crime.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case ahead of schedule last week by portraying Manning as an arrogant loner fully aware that the information he leaked might end up with groups like al Qaeda. The trial was slated to end on August 23 but is currently running ahead of plan. Some phases of the court martial have taken place behind closed doors.
The more than 700,000 files Manning gave to WikiLeaks contained all manner of sensitive information, from field reports from combat zones Iraq and Afghanistan to candid appraisals of prominent world leaders and correspondence on comparative trivialities, for instance the fate of a brown bear named Bruno who was shot and killed in Bavaria.
msh/mkg (AFP, AP, Reuters)