Hearing concludes for suspected WikiLeaks leaker Manning

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 22, 2011 1:38 PM
Hearing concludes for suspected WikiLeaks leaker Manning

By Lily Kuo

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking classified files to the WikiLeaks website gave U.S. enemies "unfettered access" to government secrets, a military prosecutor said on Thursday, but a defense lawyer said the soldier had done no harm.

The comments came as lawyers for the two sides made their closing arguments at a hearing to determine whether Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, 24, should be court-martialed on charges including aiding the enemy and wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet.

Manning's attorney accused military prosecutors of overreaching in bringing 22 criminal charges against him, saying the massive release of documents had caused no harm to national security and the government was trying "to strong-arm a plea from my client."

"The sky is not falling, the sky has not fallen and the sky will not fall" as a result of the document release, defense attorney David Coombs said.

Aiding the enemy is a capital offense that could bring the death penalty but the prosecution has said the maximum it intends to seek is life in prison. Coombs said the prosecution needed a "reality check" and focused his closing remarks on urging them to seek no more than 30 years in prison.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, the investigating officer in the case, will now review the evidence presented at the hearing and make a recommendation by January 16 on whether the military should court martial Manning.

Manning is accused of downloading more than 700,000 classified or confidential files from the military's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, while serving in Iraq. Those files are thought to be the source of documents that appeared on WikiLeaks, which promotes the leaking of government and corporate information.

The prosecution has sought to portray Manning as a trained and trusted analyst who knowingly committed criminal acts when he allegedly passed the documents to WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors have attempted to link Manning to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, introducing logs of web chats that an investigator said appeared to show conversations in which the two discuss sending government documents.

Manning's defense attorneys have attempted to portray him as an emotionally troubled young man whose behavioral problems should have prompted his superiors to revoke his access to classified information.

Witnesses said Manning sent an email to his sergeant expressing concern that confusion over his gender identity was seriously hurting his life, work and ability to think. Manning had created a female alter-ego online, Breanna Manning, according to testimony at the hearing.

The courtroom at Fort Meade, northeast of Washington, was packed on Thursday for the closing arguments. Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, attended, as did Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam war in the 1970s.

Captain Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, said in his closing summation that Manning was a trusted and well-trained soldier who "used that training to defy our trust."

"He gave the enemies of the United States unfettered access to these documents," Fein said.

He used a PowerPoint presentation to underscore the training Manning had received on the importance of protecting classified information. He said Manning even cautioned his colleagues in a briefing he conducted in 2008 about the common way in which leaks occur, including through the Internet or journalists.

In his closing remarks, defense lawyer David Coombs underscored Manning's emotional instability, saying he mainly "struggled in isolation" but showed occasional warning signs that should have prompted the unit's leaders to take action.

"It was the military's lack of response to that which also smacks in the face of justice," Coombs said.

(Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Bill Trott)