Transcript: Press conference Q&A with defense counsel David Coombs on PFC Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence – part II

Partial transcript of press conference Q&A with David Coombs, civilian defense counsel for PFC Bradley Manning, after Manning was sentenced to 35 years in confinement for leaking 700,000 classified U.S. records to WikiLeaks. The press conference was held on Aug. 21, 2013 at the Hotel at Arundel Preserve in Hanover, Maryland. 


Question: If you were advising Edward Snowden now, would you suggest that he came home to the United States and face trial?

David Coombs: Well, you know, if he were my client at this point, I would tell him that the current environment is not one that’s friendly to whistleblowers certainly.

We certainly should have a discussion on what are appropriate leaks and what steps you should go through to get this information out.

But you look at Thomas Drake, for example – he’s a prime example of a whistleblower who tried to take every step that you would expect a whistleblower to take prior to giving it to a journalist and it didn’t lead him to anywhere.

So instead of signing whistleblower protection, we need to actually get something where a whistleblower can go to a journalist, a group of journalists who are not subjected to the government and they can make a determination – “Is this the type of information that the American public needs to know? Or does it truly pose a danger to national security?”

Question: What did Private Manning say to you after he was sentenced?

David Coombs: You know, he – after he was sentenced, we went back into the room. Myself and others were in tears because this means a lot to us.

And so you get this guy and he looks to me and he said, “It’s okay. It’s all right. Don’t worry about it. It’s all right. I know you did your best. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay. I’m going to get through this.”

So I’m in a position where my client is cheering me up, and that shouldn’t happen. I should be – as the attorney – cheering him up.

But he is a resilient young man. If nothing else, he is resilient.

Question: To the best of your knowledge, how much support do you think Manning will get in Leavenworth going forward for some of the gender confusion issues that were revealed in the testimonies?

David Coombs: I don’t know for sure. That is something I’m currently looking at. In addition to becoming the smartest person on pardons, I’m going to become the smartest person on ensuring that a soldier who’s in confinement, who has gender dysphoria gets appropriate medical treatment.

I know recently there was a story – I think Court House News ran it – where a Fort Leavenworth spokesperson said, “We don’t have certain treatment. That’s not what we give.” I’m going to change that.

Question: Do you feel that the sentence or any part of it was used to send a message to others, perhaps as a deterrent?

David Coombs: Well, 35 years would be a strong deterrent to doing this. That’s why brave people step forward with information at grave personal risk.

The deterrent here, I think, also started very early on with the aiding the enemy offense. If you are faced with a death penalty offense for doing something that’s just giving information to you, a journalist, that’s scary. This is not the America that I would hope that we live in.

And so I think certainly this was designed to send a message.

And I’m hoping that what we do as an American public is we re-define what that message is and say, “This is not what we want the outcome to be”, and that would result in the President, hopefully, pardoning my client.

Question: Do you believe your client received a fair trial?

David Coombs: You know, I will tell you that there are many things about the military justice system I love. But when it comes to a fair trial, what’s important is what is the perception of the public? Is it perceived as a fair trial? And in this instance, that answer would have to be no. And that’s sad because you have a trial where the biggest problem for fairness is a rule that I’m also going to be pushing. So it sounds like I’m going to be quite busy. [Laughs] But I’m going to try to change RCM 806 – Rules of Court Martial 806 – which prevents you, the media, from being in the court room with cameras with cameras rolling showing everything that happens in the court room. If you can have cameras in the court room, do you think for a moment, you wouldn’t have – I don’t know, say, Nancy Grace – not present everyday live from Fort Meade saying what happened? If you had cameras in the court room, a lot of the stuff that happened would not have happened because the American public would see it and they would say, “You know, this isn’t fair.”

So I think from a representation standpoint, we did everything to ensure that he got a fair trial. But I don’t believe that the public’s going to perceive it as such.

Question: How did pleading guilty to 10 lesser counts impact the defense?

David Coombs: Well, the goal there – and that also should kind of give you some insight to what was happening. A lot of people criticized that move – “Why would you plead guilty without some sort of benefit of a deal?” And you only have a benefit of a deal if you have a partner on the other side that’s willing to deal. And so by pleading guilty to the lesser included offenses, it gave PFC Manning opportunity to accept responsibility because he wasn’t trying to say he didn’t do it. And I was hoping that it would do – also send a message to the court saying that the government is not a reasonable partner in this negotiation, and oftentimes, that comes back to sentencing credit. You get credit for accepting responsibility. You get credit for entering into stipulations of expected testimony that saves the court time. Thirty-five years doesn’t seem he got much credit.


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4 Comments on “Transcript: Press conference Q&A with defense counsel David Coombs on PFC Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence – part II

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