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

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: Who are the winners and losers in this case?

David Coombs: I think the winner in this case is the public because they got information that they needed to receive in order to see what our country is doing and to really spark the discussion that is currently going on right now.

The loser is anybody who hopes that you’ll have whistleblowers in the future willing to come forward, because as I said before this does send a message and it’s a chilling one and it’s endorsed at the very highest levels. This administration has gone after more whistleblowers than the previous ones combined. So hopefully we change that in the near future.

Question: There’s a report out there that this is the longest sentence that anyone has ever received for leaking information to the media…Can you put it into perspective at all?

David Coombs: I think in time I would be able to but I will tell you that when I heard the sentence of 35 years, I think to myself – I’ve represented hundreds of clients, and my clients have ranged the full spectrum of offenses, from people who’ve committed murder to people who’ve molested children, and those types of clients received less time than PFC Manning.

Question: If knowing that he would get 35 years, do you think he would do this all over again?

David Coombs: Again, I guess hindsight’s 20-20. I do believe that he is the type of person who could not have lived with himself if he didn’t do something, and you see a little bit of that in the [Adrian] Lamo chats where he said, “I could just keep this inside my head. I had to put it out.” And I think he also was a realist at that point. He realized that there may be a time which he serves the rest of his life in prison for doing what he’s doing. And he was okay with that as long as people didn’t try to mischaracterize him as a traitor, as somebody who didn’t care about his country.

Question: We’re still trying to clarify the eligibility for parole issue. That’s based on his sentence. [Inaudible]

David Coombs: Sure. Any sentence that is greater than 30 years, the individual will be eligible for parole after 10. You get credit for the time that you’ve served already. So he served three years, so he’ll be eligible for parole in seven.

Question: [Inaudible]

David Coombs: It is true. When you get parole from a military prison, you will go into a federal parole system. So they will put together their restrictions from a military side that they want but then you’ll be treated as if you’re coming out of a federal prison. You’ll fall into that parole system, a probationary officer, and we’ll go from there.

Question: PFC Manning’s mother is Welsh, and there’s been some back-and-forth about whether that means he’s a British citizen or not. Do you feel like the British government should have done more to support him and is there anything that they can do going forward?

David Coombs: I don’t know about the time to support but certainly going forward they could do more to support a person who does have dual citizenship. Certainly, they could come forward and say that the sentence is too harsh. I don’t know if they’d do that given what they’ve done to Glenn Greenwald’s significant other. But it’d be nice if they did.

Question: Do you see Barack Obama’s statements regarding Bradley Manning coming up again as appeals or anything further? [Referring to command influence.]

David Coombs: I don’t know if that would happen, if it’d come up on appeal. But those statements obviously were untimely. They were not good statements to be made during that portion of the case. And I do think those statements had an impact not so much on the outcome of the case or what happened inside of the case, but it had an impact because at that point PFC Manning was at Guantanamo – excuse me, at – could have been at Guantanamo [laughter] – at Quantico. And when you have the President making those statements, obviously those in power to make decisions believe they have top cover. So I think they impacted how he was treated there, certainly.

And then obviously the government – they went full press with their prosecution pushing the envelope on what it means to aid the enemy and what it means to exceed authorized access. Every step of the way, they took a very unique and on-the-edge legal position, and they did that without any concern of what will happen on appeal. I think the reason why was, again, to send a message.

Question: Will you pursue any undue command influence during the appeal?

David Coombs: I’m not – while I’m going to be very smart on a lot of things, I’m not going to do his appeal. And some might say, “Why not?” And the reason why is if you are the appellate counsel, you’re looking at what the trial attorney did and you’re second-guessing every decision. And if there’s something that they did wrong, you’re raising that as ineffective assistance of counsel. I couldn’t do that to myself obviously, and Brad deserves an attorney that will. So if I’ve made a mistake, if I’ve done something wrong, if I didn’t raise an issue that I should have, Brad shouldn’t be punished for that.

Question: Just a few clarifications. What you are going to do is you’re going to appeal to the convening authority to reduce the sentence and you are going to appeal to Barack Obama to pardon him or reduce his sentence. But that’s all you are going to do for seven years; that’s all you’re able to do for seven years…

David Coombs: No, there are other things I can do for him – another small variation. Because he has a greater than 30 years sentence, after three years at the confined facility, he’s eligible for a clemency board. And that clemency board then looks at the sentence. A lot of time what they determine on whether or not a person should get clemency is how have they been in confinement. So that’s another option – another bite at the apple, if you will – at reducing his sentence. And if I think hard enough and turn over enough rocks, I think I’ll find some other ways of doing that as well.

Question: And when will the appeals process by the appellate lawyers start?

David Coombs: More than likely that will start sometime in late 2014 or early 2015…


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