Adrian Lamo climbs into a vehicle in Fort Meade, Maryland, Tuesday, December 20, 2011, after testifying at a military hearing of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Pity the wretched Adrian Lamo! The genius hacker is a celebrity among the digerati and DefCon regulars, but to those of outside those circles, Lamo looks pretty much like every other police informant: a convicted felon with a history of mental illness. (Lamo was involuntarily committed just a few weeks before he was contacted by Pfc. Manning from Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.) So much of what we know about Manning is from the six-day conversation between him and Lamo via instant-message chats in May of 2010 when the soldier still deployed at FOB Hammer in Iraq, the hacker at home in California. The (nearly) unexpurgated logs were published by Wired in July 2011 and they are a twenty-first-century non-fiction novella written in the abbreviated online lingo of the millennials. Manning does nearly all of the chatting: about his childhood, his life as a high school graduate on his own living out of his car in the Chicago O’Hare parking lot, his aspirations for college, what he saw and did and was asked to do but did not do in the US military and why he became a Wikileaks source.
Lamo doesn’t say much in these chatlogs. He asks questions. He listens, or seems to. By the second day of the conversation he’s turned Manning in to the authorities.
Many people detest Adrian Lamo and have tried to cast him as Iago in this story. Not me, though. Lamo’s pathetic and unlikeable, for sure, a guy who posed as a friend to Manning while shopping him to the feds—not, I suspect, out of security-minded patriotism (as he has sometimes claimed) but to cover his own ass from further prosecution. A sad wretch, and I’m not interested in burning the calories required to despise a guy who is not worth it.
Yesterday Adrian Lamo took the stand as a witness for the prosecution, who are desperate to nail Manning for the capital offense of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the twenty-two charges against the young soldier—but also the most ridiculous. Because members of Al Qaeda, like everyone else in the world with an Internet connection, had access to Wikileaks, Manning was their accomplice! (It’s a bit like prosecuting Nike for aiding the enemy if they had found a pair of vintage Air Jordans in bin Laden’s armoire.) The law on aiding the enemy is disturbingly vague: most capital crimes require a specific intent (mens rea) to commit the criminal act, it can’t be a matter of negligence or recklessness. Did Manning specifically intend to aid Al Qaeda? Not remotely, not even, from everything that we know.
But the prosecution has pushed hard for broader interpretation of the “aiding the enemy” charge—and they have largely succeeded. In pretrial hearings, Judge Denise Lind ruled that the prosecution must only prove that Manning had specific knowledge (not an intent) that his declassified documents would reach and help Al Qaeda—a lower, blurrier standard. The prosecution has come out guns blazing to pin Manning to bin Laden, and many reporters who should know better have lapped this up. (Cf. the Atlantic’s lurid and imbecilic headline, “The Thin Line between Bradley Manning and Osama Bin Laden.”)
So it was a bit of a relief when Adrian Lamo testified yesterday that Manning had never expressed any desire to harm the United States. Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, asked Lamo if the defendant had ever voiced any intent to harm the US, desecrate the flag or aid the enemy.
“Not in those words, no.”
The prosecution is going to have a very difficult road to hoe in making the aiding the enemy charge stick.
Note: I missed Monday’s opening statements, as I was running around Manhattan doing media appearances on the quinoa circuit of left-of-center and foreign TV studios. If you want the scoop on the prosecution and defense’s opening orations, don’t waste your time with sites like MSNBC or the Atlantic, tune in to Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake or Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning support network, who has covered every breath of the pretrial hearings and will be down at the Ft. Meade courthouse for the duration of its twelve to sixteen weeks. (Me, I’ll be down there next week, reporting firsthand). And thanks to the Freedom of the Press Foundation for hiring a stenographer and supplying TRANSCRIPTS of the courtroom action.
Check out Chase Madar’s last post, “Seven Myths About Bradley Manning.”