Excerpts from the defense opening statement in the court martial of PFC Bradley Manning

Reporter’s note: I attended the first week (June 3 – 5, 2013) of the trial of United States v. PFC Bradley Manning in Fort Meade, Maryland. I observed the hearing from a closed-circuit broadcast in an overflow trailer near the courthouse on Monday, June 3, and attended the hearing inside the court room on Tuesday, June 4 and Wednesday, June 5. I am making available my notes (with some omissions and minimal edits) and summaries of the court martial proceedings due to the limited public access to official transcripts and court documents in the Manning case.

Excerpts from the defense opening statement in United States v. PFC Bradley E. Manning. The opening statement was presented by David Coombs on June 3, 2013 at Fort Meade, Maryland: 

“It was 24 December 2009. He was 22 year young, in Iraq, his first deployment, his first unit.”

“He was excited to be in Iraq, and he was excited to achieve his mission and, hopefully, make Iraq a safer place.”

“The EFP [explosively formed penetrator] alert that went out…broke the silence of an otherwise calm Christmas Eve. EFP claimed the lives of too many soldiers. So when the alert went out, everybody in the TOC [Tactical Operations Center] and in the SCIF [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] went into an immediate frenzy to get information.”

“PFC Manning was sent…to find out what he could about the the EFP…At that point, all they really knew was that an element…was driving down a road that was rarely used…and the lead element was hit.”

PFC Manning was sent to the TOC for additional information but they didn’t have any updates and he returned to the SCIF empty-handed.

“[Then] came the welcome news. Despite the lead element being hit, no soldiers were killed, no soldiers were injured. Everyone in the TOC started celebrating. Everyone in the SCIF started celebrating. Good news was welcome on any day, but especially on Christmas Eve.”

SCIF received additional news about the EFP a few minutes later:
“The report indicated that as the lead element was driving down this road, there was a civilian car in front of them. That civilian car pulled over to the side, as was typical, to allow the convoy to go by. They pulled over right in front of where that EFP was placed. The car had 5 occupants – 2 adults and 3 children. That EFP went right through that car and hit that lead element. All 5 occupants were taken to the hospital, one died en route.”

“Everyone was celebrating. Everyone was happy. Everyone but PFC Manning. He couldn’t celebrate. He couldn’t be happy…He couldn’t forget about the life that was lost on that day.”

“From that moment forward, PFC Manning started struggling…PFC Manning is not a typical soldier…When he deployed to Iraq, he had custom dog tags – ID tags – that he had made and on the back of those tags read ‘humans’.”

“He was a humanist…[Humanism] was the religious belief that he ascribed to and those values are placing people first, placing value on human life.”

Coombs said that Manning’s instant message chats with Zachary Antolak, who underwent a gender change and now goes by Lauren McNamara, provided insight into Manning’s humanist beliefs.

“They talked about PFC Manning’s humanist beliefs. They talked about PFC Manning feeling a huge amount of pressure – pressure to do everything he could to help his unit. He was reading more into politics…philosophy…The reason he was doing that was he wanted to give the best possible information to his command and hopefully save lives. He talked about feeling a strong desire and a need to do everything he could to help his unit, and in the hopes of every one of the soldiers that deployed with him would go home safely; everyone of the DOD civilians that worked with them would go home safely…And he hoped that local nationals – people they were trying to help in Iraq – would be able to go home safely.”

“After that 24 December 2009 incident, things started to change…He started to struggle. The evidence will show the reason why he started to struggle was no longer could he read SIGACTs or human [intel] reports and just see a name…and not think about that family on Christmas Eve who had just pulled over their car to let the convoy go by.”

“His struggles were public. He was struggling not only with the feeling of obligation and duty to people but also with the internal struggle – a very private struggle – with his gender. And this was public for his unit to see.”

“His struggles led him to feel that he needed to do something…to make a difference in this world. He needed to do something to help improve what he was seeing. And so from that moment forward – January of 2010 – he started selecting information that he believed the public should hear and should see – information that he believed that if the public saw would make the world a better place.”

“But importantly, information that he specifically selected, he believed, could not be used against the United States, and information that he believed, if public, could not be used by a foreign nation.”

Explanation of why Manning released SIGACTs in Iraq and Afghanistan

“The first data set that he selected to download was the SIGACTs…He selected specific information from SIGACTs…He knew that SIGACTs were low-level filtered reports. These are reports by the unit on the ground that documented essentially the 5 Ws – who, what, where, when, and why – of a particular incident.” (SIGACTs would be written for any engagement with the enemy, any event that resulted in the death of a civilian, any event that led to the injury or death of a civilian employee or a local national.)

The SIGACTs that Manning selected were older than 72 hours. They were generally considered “historical” documents that didn’t discuss future operations or names of sources.

“SIGACTs were essentially a diary of the day-to-day activities…As he was reading these SIGACTs with benefit – or more appropriately, the burden – of what happened on 24 December 2009, he started to see that this information should be public. The American public should know what is happening on a day-to-day basis…He believed this is one of the more important documents of our time, lifting the fog of war and showing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare.”

Explanation of why Manning released the Apache video

Manning knew that another intelligence analyst found the “Apache” video in an archive folder from a previous unit. She pulled out the video and everyone at the SCIF were discussing the “ethical implications” of what they were seeing and hearing.

Manning knew that the Apache video was taken during a 2007 attack that resulted in the deaths of two Reuters journalists and that their deaths received worldwide media attention. Manning knew that Reuters had filed a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request for a copy of the Apache video to determine what had happened and to ensure that something like that wouldn’t happen again. He knew that the U.S. responded to Reuter’s FOIA request about 2 years later and indicated the records that were found but omitted the video.

“He knew that David Finkel, an author, had written a book called ‘The Good Soldiers’, and when he read through David Finkel’s account…about the incident that’s depicted in the video, [Manning] saw that David Finkel’s account and the actual video were verbatim, that David Finkel was quoting the Apache air crew. So at that point, he knew that David Finkel had a copy of the video.”

“When he decided to release this information, he believed that this information showed how we valued human life in Iraq. He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled and maybe things would change.”

Explanation of why Manning released the State Department cables

“The cables were called SIPDIS…and SIPDIS stands for SIPRNet distribution. The cables were available to anyone who had SIPRNet access, and that was at least a million people.”

Manning reviewed cable from 1996 to 2009, the majority of which contained unclassified information.

“He felt that this showed how we dealt with other countries, how we valued life in other countries. How we didn’t – unfortunately, based on his view – always do the right thing by other countries.”

Explanation of why Manning released the Granai (Farah Province, Afghanistan) airstrike video

Manning knew that the video depicted a 2009 airstrike killed more than 150 men, women, and children in the village of Granai. The strike, along with Gen. David Patraeus’s comments to the press on what had happened, received worldwide attention. There was a FOIA request for the video but the Granai video was not released.

“At the time he released this information, he believed it was important because it showed how something happened and, more importantly, why it should never have happened in the first place.”

Explanation of why Manning released the [Guantanamo] Detainee Assessment Groups documents

“These were found in an archive dated mostly from 2002 to as late as 2009. He knew they didn’t have intelligence sources by name; they’re mostly biographical information.”

“Most of that information had been released by the Pentagon in 2006 and 2007, the name of the detainees, their detainee numbers, their country of origin. Both the combatant review tribunals and the administrative review board contained much of the same information in the DAB.”

Manning’s chats with Zachary Antolak talked about President Barack Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo.

“He knew what almost everyone else in American knew as well, that a lot of people there didn’t need to be there. They were being held there year after year with no hope of coming into a courtroom.”

“At the time that he released this information…he didn’t know for sure the value of it…He knew that it might be valuable to the attorneys that were representing those who were still in Guantanamo. He also knew that it might be valuable to historians to be able to put a true account of what our nation did in Guantanamo.

Concluding remarks

“At the time that PFC Manning selected this information that he believes he was selective. He had access to literally hundred of millions of documents as an all-source analyst, and these were the documents he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place. He was 22-years-old. He was young. He was a little naive in believing that the information that he selected could actually make a difference. But he was good intentioned in that he was selecting information that he hoped would make a difference. He wasn’t selecting information because it was wanted by WikiLeaks. He wasn’t selecting information because of some 2009 ‘most wanted’ list. He was selecting information because he believed that this information needed to be public…He was concentrating on what the American public would think about that information, not whether or not the enemy would get access to it, and he had absolutely no actual knowledge of whether the enemy would gain access to it. Young, naive, but good intentioned.”



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