The government is seeking to block Bradley Manning’s attorney’s attempt to call nearly 50 defense witnesses at a pre-trial hearing next week over the private’s alleged leaking of hundreds of thousands of U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks.
The government opposed all witnesses requested by the defense, except ones that the government is also calling as witnesses, according to a new filing from the defense team. That works out to 38 of the 48 witnesses Manning’s defense attorney David E. Coombs asked permission to call to the stand, when the Article 32 hearing commences Dec. 16 in Maryland, according to a new filing from the defense team.
The government’s filing is not publicly available, but according to the defense response to the government’s opposition (.pdf), the government appears to be opposed to the calling of military mental health experts who worked with Manning, as well as other witnesses who can testify to Manning’s deteriorating emotional health before and during the time the alleged leaks occurred. Those witnesses would also be able to testify, the defense hopes, to the failure of the Army to address these issues at the time. The defense’s focus on witnesses who will testify to Manning’s mental health is likely an effort to mitigate any punishment Manning will face if convicted.
But the government seems to indicate that written testimony from these people will be adequate.
“In its response to the defense witness request, the government states that the defense’s proffered testimony regarding the total breakdown in command and control within the S-2 Section and the multiple failures by the unit to take basic steps in response to clear mental health issues being suffered by PFC Manning is somehow ‘not relevant to the Article 32 investigation and will only serve to distract from the relevant issues,’” Coombs writes in his response.
“Simply reading the sworn statements of some of these witnesses and hearing from a few others will not allow either party or the Investigating Officer to explore the relevant information,” Coombs continues. “The listed witnesses need to be questioned personally and individually about what they saw, heard, and experienced if there is to be a thorough and impartial investigation.”
The government also appears to be opposed to the testimony of case agents who worked directly on the investigation. According to the defense filing, more than 22 agents from the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigative Division worked on the case.
“If the defense does not have the opportunity to question the case agents about evidence they developed, witnesses they interviewed, leads they pursued, leads they elected not to pursue, and other relevant matters, the defense will also be denied an important function that the Article 32 investigation is designed to accomplish,” Coombs writes in his response, noting that the fact that agents who worked on the case are likely spread throughout the U.S. and overseas, and the Article 32 hearing will be the “only realistic mechanism available to the defense to personally question the case agents involved in the investigation.”
The defense is also seeking witnesses who could testify to the classification level of the information that Manning allegedly leaked, but the government apparently indicated that such witnesses were not available for testimony due to the importance of their positions.
“The government seems to argue that in matters of justice, if you have too important of a position, you should not be bothered,” Coombs writes. “Military justice should not be controlled by the importance of your duty position.”
Not surprisingly, the government opposed the calling of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Obama is being sought to testify on what possible undue influence his statements about Manning’s guilt might have on the military court. Clinton was being sought to testify about the level of harm that the data leaks caused to national security.
Coombs writes that if witnesses cannot be present because they are deemed “too important,” he will seek to take depositions from them, if the case goes forward.