Transcript: Press conference remarks by defense counsel David Coombs on PFC Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence

Transcript of remarks by David Coombs, civilian defense counsel for PFC Bradley Manning, at a press conference following the court martial sentencing on Aug. 21, 2013. The press conference was held at the Hotel at Arundel Preserve in Hanover, Maryland. 

All right, good afternoon everyone.

Over the past few months as you know, I’ve been representing PFC Bradley Manning in a military court martial, and that representation has involved an unprecedented charge, really – a charge which was aiding the enemy for a simple act of providing information to you, journalists. That’s what resulted in an aiding the enemy offense.

Under the current administration, an unauthorized leak to the media of classified information is viewed as being tantamount as aiding the enemy.

The government-wide crackdown on whistleblowers and the extension of this crackdown to journalists threaten to stifle the flow of information that is vital to our public, and it’s vital for information that we not only have a need to know but often time have a right to know.

While we were successful in avoiding the aiding the enemy offense, the fact that the government pursued this offense – the fact that the government let this offense go forward even after it was clear there was no evidence of any intent to do so, should sound an alarm to every journalist, should sound an alarm to every concern citizen.

The case of United States v. Bradley Manning is a watershed moment in history for freedom of the press. We need to decide what freedoms and individual rights we’re willing to give up in the name of national security.

And we’ve heard a lot recently from the Obama administration about oversight. We’ve been told to trust that the oversight mechanisms that are within the executive branch are striking an appropriate balance. We’ve been told that they know what’s in the public’s interest to know as opposed to what is national security and cannot be revealed.

You have to ask yourself: Is the government striking an appropriate balance?

The ultimate role of oversight in America has always belonged to the American people, and it is only to the extent that the American people can be informed to these matters that oversight works at all.

There are too many things we do not know about our national security apparatus. We don’t know how it works. We don’t know the extent of its reach. And in order to close this gap, we need a free and vibrant press. We need members of the press who are not potential subjects of criminal investigation for receiving information, which is their very job to do as watchdogs of our government.

In order to close this gap, we need whistleblowers like PFC Manning – people who are not afraid to stand up and speak the truth and to risk their freedom for the ability to keep us informed.

In order to close this gap, we need a public that cares. We need a public that is concerned about what is happening.

We need all of these things because, make no mistake about it, the cancer of over-classification is threatening the very fabric of our free society. Over-classification hinders debate. It hinders what we know about our government. It hinders finding solutions to common problems and that is how do we keep our way of life in a post-9/11 world.

PFC Manning was one of the brave Americans who was not willing to remain silent. Instead, he decided to provide us with information that he believed would spark reforms, would spark debate, and he provided us with information that he believed might change the world.

Due to his decisions, he has been called a traitor. He’s been accused of having blood on his hands. He’s endured three years in confinement and many of that in unlawful pre-trial confinement that was specifically designed to break his spirit. He’s endured – what is now evident to everyone – a baseless aiding the enemy offense that at the time carried the death penalty and then carried life without the possibility of parole.

And now, he is enduring a 35-year sentence. The time to end Brad’s suffering is now. The time for our President to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now. The time for our President to pardon PFC Manning is now.

Early next week, I will file – on behalf of my client, PFC Manning – a request to be routed through the Secretary of the Army…for the President a request that the President pardon PFC Manning or at the very least commute his sentence to time served.

And I want to share with you PFC Manning’s statement that’s part of this request. So I’ll read it to you.

“The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on a traditional battlefield. And due to this fact, we’ve had to alter our methods of combatting the risks posed to us and our way of life. I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time that I realized that our efforts to meet the risks posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceive were the enemy, we sometime kill innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability. In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomach countless other acts in the name of our war on terror. Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically-based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived…mission. Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy – the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps – to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light. As the late Howard Zinn once said, ‘There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.’ I understand that my actions violated the law. I regret that my actions hurt anyone or harm the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all…women and men are created equal.”

Now, the family of Bradley Manning –

[Applause from supporters]

– has asked me to read the following statement:

“We are sadden and disappointed in today’s sentence. We continue to believe that Brad’s intentions were good and that he believed he was acting in the best interest of this country. We will again like to thank his extraordinary defense team for their tireless efforts on his behalf. And of course, we want to thank Courage to Resist, the Bradley Manning Support Network, and the thousands of supporters around the world who have stood with Brad throughout this ordeal. Please know that his fight is not over.”

And actually, I couldn’t have ended that better because his fight is not over. My representation of him at a court martial may end but my representation of him in ensuring that he, one day – and one day very soon – walks out of Fort Leavenworth has just begun.

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