Trial Opens in WikiLeaks Case ; Lawyer and Prosecutor Offer Stark Differences in Portrayals of Soldier

By Charlie Savage; Sarah Lyall | International Herald Tribune, June 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Trial Opens in WikiLeaks Case ; Lawyer and Prosecutor Offer Stark Differences in Portrayals of Soldier


Charlie Savage; Sarah Lyall, International Herald Tribune


The military trial against Pfc. Bradley Manning is expected to provide a vivid courtroom display of the Obama administration's continued crackdown on government news leaks.

The court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who released a vast trove of U.S. military and diplomatic archives with results the government denounced as deeply damaging to national security, opened here on Monday.

The proceeding is expected to provide a vivid courtroom display of the Obama administration's continued crackdown on government news leaks. Its aggressive leak investigations involving Associated Press journalists and a Fox News reporter have drawn angry criticism from the news media and Republicans.

The leaks for which Mr. Manning has taken responsibility were the most extensive in U.S. history.

A military prosecutor told the judge hearing the case that Private Manning was no ordinary leaker.

"This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy -- material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk," said the prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow, a U.S. Army officer.

But a defense lawyer, David Coombs, told the judge that his client had been "young, naive but good-intentioned" and that he had, in fact, been selective in his actions and tried to make sure that the several hundred thousand documents he released would not cause harm.

"He released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place," Mr. Coombs said.

The dueling portrayals underscored the oddity at the heart of the trial, which is expected to last as long as 12 weeks: There is no doubt that Private Manning did most of what he is accused of doing and he has already pleaded guilty to 10 charges for that conduct, leaving him exposed to a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

But his plea was not part of any deal with the government, and prosecutors are moving forward with the trial anyway in hopes of convicting him of a far more serious set of charges -- including violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy -- that could result in a life sentence.

Watching the trial from afar was the Australian activist and publisher of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who has spent the past year confined to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, fearful of leaving its grounds lest he be arrested and deported to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. British officials confirmed on Monday that Ecuador was initiating a high-profile effort to resolve the impasse.

Private Manning, 25, a slight man who wears thick military glasses, wore a dress black uniform on Monday as he answered a series of procedural questions from the judge, Col. Denise Lind.

He quietly affirmed that he still wanted to forgo his right to a jury.

"Yes -- yes, ma'am," Private Manning told Colonel Lind, who will not only run the court-martial but will also deliver the verdict. …

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