Private Bradley Manning, US Army private suspected of being the source of some of the unauthorized classified information disclosed on the WikiLeaks website. (AP Photos)
UPDATE: My live-blog of day #2 of trial, with Adrian Lamo due.
One of the most important trials in recent US history opens today at Fort Meade, Maryland. Full court-martial proceedings against Pfc. Bradley Manning will begin more than three years following his arrest overseas related to a massive leak of material to WikiLeaks. Manning, now 25, this spring took responsibility for ten of the twenty-two charges against him but among the remaining charges is one, aiding the enemy (that is, Al Qaeda), that could bring a sentence of life in prison.
On Saturday, as many as 2,000 gathered near Fort Meade to protest the continuing proceedings against Manning, many adopting the slogan, “I am Bradley Manning.” Late Sunday, Manning’s longtime attorney, David E. Coombs, speaking for his client, thanked supporters—and the handful of journalists who have covered the case step-by-step since the beginning.
A new piece by Ed Pilkington at The Guardian highlights the significance of the trial, charging that it “could set an ominous precedent that will chill freedom of speech and turn the internet into a danger zone, legal experts have warned.”
One of those journalists hailed by Manning and his attorney on Sunday was surely Kevn Gosztola, a former intern for The Nation who is among the very few who has attended all of the key hearings in the case. He has covered the case for The Nation and on an ongoing basis for the blog Firedoglake—after assisting me with my long-running blog on WikiLeaks here and my book The Age of WikiLeaks. We have also co-authored a book about the Manning case, Truth and Consequences, which was updated last week with new material and analysis covering all of the twists and turns leadng to today’s trial.
Here is an excerpt from the new edition written by Gosztola. I am live-blogging first day of trial here.
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In a dramatic move, Manning pled guilty to some of the offenses on February 28, 2013. He admitted to unauthorized possession of certain information, willful communication of information, and that he communicated that information to an unauthorized person. He also admitted to engaging in conduct that was “service discrediting” or prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the military.
Appearing in court, Manning was allowed to read a lengthy statement he had written. It described his motivation in compelling depth for the first time, and made it clear that he had considered precisely what type of information to release to WikiLeaks; he had not committed an aimless, vindictive, “document dump.”
On the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq, showing two Reuters employees being killed along with an Iraqi civilian, whose children were wounded, Manning testified, “The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have….They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
The military incident reports he released to WikiLeaks on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan represented the “on the ground reality” of both of the conflicts. “I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides,” Manning said. “I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year.”
He chose to release the cache of over 250,000 U.S. State Embassy cables to WikiLeaks because, “The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think that the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”
A particular cable, 10REYKJAVIK13, from Iceland, was provided to WikiLeaks in February 2010 because, after reading it, he “concluded that Iceland was essentially being bullied diplomatically by two larger European powers” over the issue of “Icesave.” This related to the collapse of Iceland banks. Manning determined that, even though Iceland had urged the U.S.to provide assistance, the U.S. was unwilling to help because there was no “geopolitical benefit.”
Manning also read through a number of detainee assessment briefs that WikiLeaks released as the Gitmo Files. “The more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still held in theater,” he stated.
Then there was this: Ahead of parliamentary elections in Iraq, he had helped Iraqi federal police identify suspects for detention. He found that fifteen men had been arrested because they were producing “anti-Iraqi literature.” He brought this to the attention of a superior officer, who did not want to hear about it. He knew if he continued to assist the police it was likely that innocent people would be jailed, likely tortured and “not seen again for a very long time, if ever.” (Information related to the Iraqi federal police was provided to WikiLeaks but never released.)
The Manning statement raised doubts about whether he had ever directly communicated with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, while submitting information. Manning had spoken with someone using a chat service called Jabber. This person he was chatting with was labeled as “Nathaniel Frank” and he had thought it could be Assange, but never was certain.
Having pled guilty to some offenses, there was no scenario where Manning would not be found guilty in the months to come. Manning will serve jail time. The key question now, as the trial proceeds, is: How much jail time? And will he be convicted of offenses (which he did not plead guilty to committing) such as “aiding the enemy”?
Back in December 2011, the government charged Manning with 22 offenses. They have decided not to pursue one charge related to the release of the Reykjavik cable, but on all other charges they intend to pursue the greater offenses. And they claim to have uncovered digital media from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan that held some of the State Department cables and Iraq or Afghanistan war logs, and they may be used as evidence to convict Manning of “aiding the enemy.” And that’s where we are, as the trial (which I’ll be attending each day), is set to begin, or so it seems.