PFC Bradley Manning’s defense focuses on his humanist values & “good intention”
FORT MEADE, Maryland — PFC Bradley Manning’s defense could be summed up in three words: “young”, “naive”, and “good intentioned”.
The 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst is being tried on charges of aiding the enemy by leaking classified information – such as the Apache “collateral murder” video, the Granai airstrike video, the CIDNE databases on Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 250,000 State Department cables – to WikiLeaks from January 2010 until his arrest in May 2010.
In the defense’s opening statement, attorney David Coombs argued that Manning released the classified documents to improve transparency to help the American public make better informed decisions about the U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coombs said that Manning was selective in type of information he leaked and that, at the time, he had “absolutely no actual knowledge” that the “enemy” would gain access to the information he released to WikiLeaks.
In February, Manning pleaded guilty to some of the less serious charges of which he faces a 20-year maximum sentence. But Manning could be sentenced to life in prison if he’s convicted of the “aiding the enemy” charge. He has elected to be tried by a single Judge – Col. Denise Lind – in a court martial, which is being held at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Coombs focused on Manning’s humanist values to explain what motivated him to send classified information to WikiLeaks for publication.
“PFC Manning is not a typical soldier,” said Coombs. “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’…[Humanism] was the religious belief that he ascribed to and those values are placing people first, placing value on human life.”
Coombs painted a picture of a young man – then 22-years-old – struggling to reconcile his humanist beliefs with his “strong desire…to do everything he could to help his unit” in Iraq.
Coombs said the turning point for Manning took place within weeks upon his arrival at Forward Operating Base [FOB] Hammer outside of Baghdad.
On Christmas Eve 2009, Manning and his colleagues at the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility [SCIF] were notified of an explosively formed penetrator [EFP] attack that struck a U.S. military convoy. Although no American soldiers were injured killed in the attack, reports indicated that a civilian car was struck by the EFP when it pulled over to the side of the road to allow the U.S. convoy to pass 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,” Coombs said. “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.”
Coomb said that after that Christmas Eve incident in 2009, Manning started to struggle.
“The reason why he started to struggle was no longer could he read SIGACTs [significant activity] 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,” Coomb said. “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.”
In early 2010, Manning downloaded and released to WikiLeaks the classified Combined Information and Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) databases for Iraq and Afghanistan, which contained the SIGACT reports filed by U.S. troops of what happening on the ground.
“As [Manning] 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,” Coombs explained. “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.”
In late February, Manning leaked the notorious “collateral murder” video, which depicted a U.S. Apache helicopter crew shooting and killing two Reuters journalists and unarmed civilians coming to their aid.
“[Manning] believed that this information showed how we valued human life in Iraq,” said Coombs. “He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled and maybe things would change.”
Coombs said Manning’s humanist values and desire for greater transparency to make the world a better place also motivated him to leak the Granai airstrike video, the Guantanamo detainee assessments, and more than 250,000 State Department cables.
But Coombs maintained that Manning “specifically selected” and released classified information that he believed could not be used against the United States by a foreign nation.
“[Manning] 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,” said Coombs. “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 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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