PFC Bradley Manning court martial: Transcript & notes of the defense’s pre-sentencing closing argument on Aug. 19, 2013

Reporter’s note: I attended the pre-sentencing hearing of United States v. PFC Bradley Manning in Fort Meade, Maryland on Aug. 19, 2013, and I am making available my notes (with some omissions and minimal edits) of the court proceedings due to the limited public access to official transcripts in the Manning case. Notes from the defense’s PowerPoint presentation slides are presented in italics.

Summary of the defense’s pre-sentencing closing argument in United States v. PFC Bradley Manning on Aug. 19, 2013. The closing argument was presented by civilian defense counsel David Coombs. The hearing was presided by Judge Denise Lind in Fort Meade, Maryland. 

Civilian defense counsel David Coombs:

Your honor, the argument by the government today is interested in one thing – one thing only – and that’s punishment.

The argument does not take into account the individual circumstances of PFC Manning or his offenses.

When you argue for 60 years, when you argue for that based upon the facts of this case, it’s clear they’re only interested in punishment.

Our system has evolved from a punishment only viewpoint. We try to balance out not only the needs of the service and the unit, and the needs of the Army’s good order and discipline with the needs of the individual soldier. And it’s not a punishment only system.

As the court knows from your vast experience, both parties are given the opportunity to tell you or at least argue to you what they believe should be an appropriate sentence and often times that doesn’t really help the court all that much and the reason why is [because] both sides are very biased. Somebody sees something in the 60-year realm and somebody over here might see something as just let him go today…That is a difficult thing for the court to hear and then incorporate into what should be an appropriate sentence.

Today, what the defense is going to try to do…is to give you an argument for an appropriate sentence that recognizes our bias but to try to do it in a very factual way that give the court something to look to when making that decision.

…[RCM] 1001(g) is what our recognized set of principles are for why we would sentence somebody and how we would come to an appropriate sentence.

Defense slide:
RCM 1001(g)
– rehabilitation of the accused
– specific deterrence of the accused
– social retribution
– general deterrence

So I’d like to take a moment now to go through what the defense believes are individual facts that can fit within the 1001(g) to help the court.

Defense slide:
– PFC Manning’s age and rank
* limited experience
* post-adolescent idealism stage
* pure intentions

For starters, PFC Manning’s age and rank. PFC Manning was 21-years-old at the time he deployed…He had limited experience in life, and he also had very limited military experience.

And the decisions that he made in this case during that deployment were the product of his limited experience and knowledge.

As Capt. Moulton testified, PFC Manning was also in a post-adolescent idealism stage. Now, it’s true that that’s not atypical…Actually a good thing that it’s not that atypical because in that stage that’s when individuals believe they can make a difference in this world. As Dr. Moulton testified, that is what explains a lot of the college-level activism. That is what explains people who are a part of all grassroots organizations that are designed to change the world, and that’s exactly the position that PFC Manning was in.

And he had pure intentions at the time he committed his offenses. That’s something that the government has never argued that he didn’t. He clearly had pure intentions and we know that from his chat conversations with Adrian Lamo.

At the time, PFC Manning really truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference. And more importantly, he believed that the information couldn’t be used to harm the United States at the time.
Defense slide:
Position of trust
– non-disclosure agreements signed
– Master Sgt. [Paul] Adkins’ MFRs
– December 2009 – storage

The position of trust – something that the government did argue, which is correct – PFC Manning was in a position of trust. He had signed non-disclosure agreements. He was placed and trained in a position that entrusted him with classified information and with a sense of duty and obligation not to disclose that to anyone who did not have authorization to see it.

But there was another violation of trust. And the trial counsel tried to make it seem as if the military and the Army – [that] they have no responsibility in this conduct at all…and that would be ignoring the facts of this case.

…We trust that our command will enforce standards. That’s what we trust. When we give the Army our sons and daughters, we trust that they will have a leadership that will set a standard, enforce that standard, and if somebody is not living up to that standard take corrective action.

…The memorandums for record [written by Master Sgt. Adkins] are the smoking guns in this case. It is the smoking gun in this case because you have a leadership – a master sergeant – who is aware of the issues of PFC Manning – very aware of them.

When you read each of those memorandums for record, they may be dated at different times – in December [2009], April [2010], and May [2010], but they talk about conduct both pre-deployment and then early deployment and then going into the April timeframe.

What is important here is Master Sgt. Adkins was aware of this and yet he didn’t do anything to notify those people who we entrust with the statutory obligation lead – and that is the command, whether that be Capt. [Matthew] Freeburg or his predecessor – a person who actually would make a determination is PFC Manning the type of soldier, based on what he’s experiencing, that we want to be in the S2 Section. Should he be redeployed? Should he deploy at all? Determinations that were way above Master Sgt. Adkins’ pay grade, or for that matter, the S2’s pay grade and should have been made by a commander and yet was not.

And that had consequences. And when you look into the December 2009 incident, again…to try to explain that is just simply a disruption in a counseling session with Specialist [Daniel] Padgett is to minimize what occurred there.

Chief [Warrant Officer Joshua] Ehresman felt the need to restrain PFC Manning. He though PFC Manning was going towards the weapons rack. Specialist Padgett said, ‘I stepped in between PFC Manning and the weapons rack. I didn’t want him to get to a weapon.’ Whether or not he was going for a weapon is almost immaterial. The fact that two members of the unit though that and when you see that display, again, coupled with everything that the unit knew about him before. And multiple soldiers testified about knowing that PFC Manning was struggling with issues. Master Sgt. Adkins was fully aware of it at the time. That is when corrective action should have been done. That is where, especially with you’re dealing with a MOS – a military specialty where you have access to classified information – very basic information assurance practice should have required, at the very least, a commander to make a determination ‘Should I do a defog or not? Should I suspend his access to the SCIF for a period of time? Maybe move him somewhere else that’s a little less stressful?’

Again, showing and highlighting the failure to take basic actions that we would expect from a member of the chain-of-command, Master Sgt. Adkins walks into a supply room and sees PFC Manning on the floor rocking back and forth. He’s got a knife in front of him, and he’s got the words “I want” etched into a chair…Adkins says he talks to him for an hour, and PFC Manning is definitely distraught at that point. He’s dealing with very significant issues.

And I asked Master Sgt. Adkins why in the world at that point wouldn’t you just take PFC Manning up, escort him right to mental health, notify the command, take the basic steps that we would expect of our leadership? Why wound’t you do that? And his response: “There is work that needed to be done.” And that’s when he put PFC Manning back to work, and the court knows what happened later that day – he assaulted Spec. Showman.

Granted, the command shouldn’t be put at their feet of envisioning a disclosure to WikiLeaks. That may be something that they could not have predicted. But when you have a soldier who is symbolically and actually crying for assistance, then that requires the command to take some action. Certainly they could have predicted it – that you would have some conduct that would warrant UCMJ action. And the failure – the utter failure – to take any action at this point is inexcusable.

So there was a violation of trust. PFC Manning violated his duty of trust, yes, but that is tempered by the command’s conduct…

Defense slide:
Impact based upon his offenses
– temporary in nature
– risks vs. his genuine belief

…The majority of what we heard on impact is temporary in nature. The idea of a long-term impact is speculative at best. The impact that was discussed was how they initially dealt with the leak – and certainly that is an impact – the cost of setting up the information review task force, the actions by the Department of State in addressing what they perceived as potential problems. Again, those are legitimate impacts. PFC Manning accepts responsibility for those impacts, and the defense has not tried to shirk away from those impacts.

But the ideas that these impacts are ongoing or continuing or getting worse as time goes by is to ignore reality. And the reality of the situation is that these…long-term impact is something that is in certain witnesses’ testimony – again, speculative. But they’re testifying from a position of the Department of State wanting to say, “We think X is happening because of these leaks” but they can’t truly tie what they believe to have occurred with these leaks. They make a guess.

From a military standpoint, we have certainly operations that were impacted but that’s not to say that any of our operations wouldn’t have been impacted by other things that occurred immediately thereafter. And where these operations were impacted, we’re dealing with a very volatile area where things change rapidly. So certainly, there was some impact but the idea that this is a long-term thing, again, is speculative at best.

And the risks. There were risks. That’s not to minimize the fact that there weren’t risks from these leaks. Whenever you’re talking about over 700,000 pages of documents – something that PFC Manning could not have read in its entirety – certainly there are risks. But you also have to look at what was his genuine belief at that time and we know that from the Lamo chats.

The SIGACTs are things that happened in the past. He was very familiar with those and more than one witness testified to kind of a historical record. Several government witnesses tried to say he gave away our playbook but that’s not really accurate. When you look at these SIGACTs, they talk about things that happened in the past, almost as if you are reading a newspaper of a past account. They’re not future-looking. They’re not talking about changes. They’re not talking about how we’re going to change our TTP or how we’re going to adjust certain things. And we know from certain witnesses’ testimony that these SIGACTs didn’t have an impact because we didn’t change anything.

But when you also have the cables – looking to the Lamo chats – that would give you an insight into PFC Manning’s mind at that time as well. He indicated “I wasn’t so sure about these” and then there’s a link to that, which goes…to the Department of State regulation on what is a SIPDIS cable. What type of information should go into a SIPDIS cable? It’s the type of information that can be shared across the inter-agencies. It’s the type of information that you would want to share with well over a million people – certainly not our deepest, darkest diplomatic secrets. Not to say there wasn’t potential risks there, but these are not the type of secrets that would be much more restrictively held.

…Looking at the risks, recognizing that there were some, and then looking at his genuine belief at the time.

Defense slide:
His acceptance of responsibility
– pled guilty without benefit of a deal
– entered into 58 stipulations
– waived OCONUS witnesses for merit and sentencing

PFC Manning’s acceptance and responsibility. He pled guilty without the benefit of a deal and admitted to the conduct that he said he did. And this plea of guilty subjected him to the possibility of 20 years at the time. Certainly, he took the very first step towards what we could say is rehabilitation. He accepted responsibility.

He entered into over 58 stipulations of fact and stipulations of expected testimony…that undoubtedly saved weeks, if not months, from this trial…that saved the government time and money and effort. He didn’t have to do that but he did.

Part of his acceptance of responsibility, not minimizing his conduct.

He waived OCONUS witnesses. That really only came to play in sentencing, but he waived them for merits as well, and yet, some of them still came. But again, trying to save the government time and money.

Defense slide:
Goal of rehabilitation
– conduct
– society has interest to restore PFC Manning to productive place

Interest of society
– not to define him
– reality of situation

And all of that goes towards the goal of rehabilitation. Our whole goal with rehabilitation is to restore people to a productive place in society, and he has taken a substantial step towards that through his plea, through his conduct throughout this trial, through his willingness to stipulate with the government to save them time and effort. He has proven that he is an excellent candidate to be rehabilitated, to be restored to a productive place in society. And society has an interest in that happening.

Society does not have an interest in defining PFC Manning by his conduct or defining PFC Manning by his upbringing. Society’s interest is in restoring this man to a productive place.

And when you look at the reality of the situation here – again, not to minimize the risk but the reality of our situation as we stand here today – we are out of Iraq; we are on our way out of Afghanistan; Guantanamo, if the President has his way, will be closed; diplomacy, we know, continues.

The Department of State made a point of saying that this really kind of shows that we’re good at our jobs and diplomacy is ongoing now….This is not the…sky is falling type of issues…diplomacy will continue…countries will still deal with us, and that has happened in this case. Many countries forgot about WikiLeaks. They moved on.

Again, looking at the reality of the situation and seeing then what the government wants…for something that, even at its best, would only be classified for 25 years, unless somehow it was extended. Many of the things, when you look at them, all have an expiration date of when they should no longer be classified, and the government wants to give him 60 years.

Defense slide:
Emotional health
– dealing with different issues
– no one to turn to for help
– many red flags – Dec. 2009

Another issue for the court to consider is PFC Manning’s emotional health at the time. Now, it’s clear he was dealing with a difficult issue and we offered that difficult issue to explain the context as to what happened – not to excuse it, not to minimize it, but to explain what this young man was going through at the time…

…He was always by himself…He had the door pushed in his face literally and figuratively…He wasn’t a person who had a battle buddy…There were many red flags for the unit to see and to act upon…certainly if they [had acted] in December 2009, [they] would have prevented PFC Manning’s conduct.

Defense slide:
Humanist belief
– cared about human life
– could not ignore what he was seeing
– disillusioned with war
– naive but sincere belief

…The one thing that rang true from the very earliest pieces of information that we know – the Lauren McNamara chats – to the very latest – Dr. Moulton and Adrian Lamo chats – is that PFC Manning cared about human life. He was a humanist. Perhaps his biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn’t ignore it and was struggling with it.

When we look at what his goals were when he started out his deployment – ‘I want to do everything I can to help my command make sure that every soldier gets back, every marine, every local contractor gets back home safely…I want to make sure that even the local nationals get home safely.’ – that was the burden that he placed upon himself.

And when we talk about disillusion with war, really what we’re talking about is helping humanity – looking at something and saying, ‘I just can’t believe this is what we need to do.’

So when he releases those SIGACTs, he thinks that those are the most important documents of the 21st century – revealing the fog of war or ‘lifting the fog of war, showing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare’.

And when he writes those things, Dr. Moulton is telling the court that he truly believes that this could end the war in Iraq; it could end the war in Afghanistan; and it would even – when the public looks at this, take it into account, studies it – would even question the need of future wars.

As naive as that belief may be, it was a sincere belief. And this is the person the government wants to give 60 years. And at the end of the day, that’s the government’s argument – he did something wrong, give him 60 years, throw away his life; he can spend the rest of his life in jail.

Long after the memory fades from this argument here today, long after any sort of possible damage…long after this information is no longer even classified, the government wants PFC Manning rotting in in a jail cell.

…It’s very easy to say a certain number of years. It rolls off the tongue – 60 years. It doesn’t take long to say it. It’s only when you start to put that into context that you truly understand how wrong it would be to give a sentence like that.

60 years is almost three times the length of PFC Manning’s life. It’s longer than any of the parties here today have been alive. It is, I have on good authority.

But again, when I look at 60 years – to put it into context in historical times when you look back at what occurred 60 years ago — I didn’t envision 60 years as an argument; I did envision the possibility of 40 years.

Defense slides:
40 years
– Neil Armstrong, man’s first footstep on the moon
– SCOTUS ruling in Roe v. Wade
– Vietnam War ending, troops coming home
– Nixon was President and embroiled in Watergate scandal

30 years
– cell phones first introduced to the American public
– ET was number one movie in America
– Margaret Thatcher elected prime minister of the U.K.

20 years
– Waco, Texas raid
– Sleepless in Seattle was number one movie in America
– President Clinton going to the White House for first term

10 years
– Operation Iraqi Freedom results in fall of Saddam’s regime
– Private Jessica Lynch was rescued
– President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement onboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln
– Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates upon re-entry

…The appropriate sentence in this case would be a sentence that takes into account all facts and circumstances…that gives PFC Manning an opportunity to be restored to a productive place in society. It doesn’t rob him of his youth. It gives him the opportunity, perhaps, to live the life he wants, in the way that he would like, perhaps find love, maybe get married, maybe have children, to watch his children grow, and perhaps have relationship with his children’s children. That would be an appropriate sentence.

When you look at PFC Manning, the government has labeled him as a traitor, an insider. Others have labeled him a hero. Either one of those are over-generalizations; they ignore who he is as a person.

And unlike most court martials, this court has had a year and a half to see the conduct of PFC Manning. You’ve heard from him on multiple occasions, and you have undoubtedly seen what the defense has seen – what I have seen – over the last three years.

PFC Manning is a lot of things. He is a young man. He’s a very intelligence man. He’s a little geeky at times, but he’s caring. He’s compassionate. He’s respectful. And he’s a young man, certainly at the time, was in fact naive…but certainly good intentioned.

And this young man now sits before you, your honor, three years wiser, three years of being in confinement – and some of that confinement, as the court has determined, was unlawful. And that brings up the other thing that he is – he is resilient.

Where others might have broken, he didn’t, and his resilience is something that would also make him a prime candidate to be rehabilitated, to be restored to a productive place in society.

This is a young man who is capable of being redeemed. We should not throw this man out for 60 years. We should not rob him of his youth.

Your honor, the defense requests that you, after considering all of the facts in this case, adjudge a sentence that allows him to have a life.



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