FT. MEADE, Maryland – The government finished making its case against accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning Thursday morning with a 60-minute closing statement that piled on new details and exhibits, including snippets of 15 pages of chats allegedly between the Army intelligence analyst and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The prosecution flashed three chat logs onscreen that purportedly show correspondence between Manning and Assange discussing uploading so-called JTF-GITMO documents — classified assessment reports about Guantanamo Bay detainees. The chats also refer to two U.S. State Department cables about Reykjavik, Iceland, as well as a request from Manning to help him crack a password so that he could log onto his work SIPRnet computer anonymously, without using his authorized account.
Manning’s attorney David E. Coombs opened the morning stating that the Army was overcharging his disturbed but idealistic client and exaggerating the impact of the leaks in order to strong-arm Manning. Coombs said the government wants to force his client into making a plea deal and turning evidence against Assange, whom the Justice Department is investigating in a criminal case stemming from the leaks allegedly provided by Manning. Coombs asked the court’s Investigating Officer to drop the charge accusing Manning of aiding the enemy and to consolidate some of the charges, saying that many were redundant and that Manning shouldn’t be facing 100 to 150 years in prison.
“Thirty years is more than sufficient punishment,” Coombs said, expressing outrage that the military also included a count of “aiding the enemy,” which carries a possible death sentence — though the military has said it is not seeking the death penalty.
“The government’s overreaction to the leaks and its claims that the sky is falling strips them of credibility in this case,” Coombs said. “The sky has not fallen and the sky will not fall.”
But government attorney Ashden Fein said all of the charges were appropriate and said the evidence clearly showed that Manning abused his security clearance and intelligence training to leak damaging information “using WikiLeaks’ ‘Most Wanted list as his guiding light.” Prior to Manning’s leaks to the organization, WikiLeaks had published a wishlist of documents and data it hoped leakers would send it.
“[Manning] continued to harvest this information knowing it would be used by our enemies,” Fein said.
The Article 32 hearing will determine which, if any, of the 22 charges of violating military law can be brought against the 24-year-old Manning in a court-martial. Manning is accused of searching out and uploading hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents that were published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 — including a controversial video of an Apache helicopter attack that killed two Reuters employees, hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, and action reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fein added that the State Department server logs showed Manning’s classified work computer accessed the State Department server 794,000 times in order to steal more than 250,000 cables that WikiLeaks subsequently published. The government, Fein said, had minute-to-minute records of Manning’s searches of the Pentagon’s classified intranet SIPRNet, and had direct evidence he uploaded documents to WikiLeaks.
Manning sat through the seventh and final day of the hearing as he has throughout the rest of the hearing — without displaying emotion — as prosecutors laid out a much stronger forensic case than many observers expected. In a chat with ex-hacker Adrian Lamo — who turned Manning into authorities, Manning said he’d taken strong precautions to protect himself against being caught — including securely erasing his hard drive. He also told Lamo that Julian Assange, a hacker himself, practiced strong “operational security” or OPSEC.
Yet the government says it found pages of chat logs on Manning’s computer that matched the ones that Lamo turned over to authorities, as well as other chat logs that showed correspondence with two accounts that appeared to be used by Julian Assange.
Additionally, investigators say they located copies of the Iraq and Afghanistan action reports on an SD memory card belonging to Manning, a spreadsheet of scripts designed to scrape State Department cables, and copies of the disturbing Apache helicopter video, published by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder.”
Wikileaks, which donated only $15,000 of a promised $50,000 to Manning’s defense fund, complicated Manning’s defense by publishing the Iran and Afghanistan war and the trove of State Department cables after Manning was arrested.
Coombs portrayed Manning as being troubled with gender identity issues even before he entered the military, and continued his argument that the military itself was to blame for allowing Manning to have a clearance, despite repeated behavioral problems. The Army has since reprimanded 15 soldiers for failing to act on Manning’s outbursts, which included throwing a chair at a fellow soldier before even being deployed to Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq.
Coombs quoted from a letter Manning sent one of his superior officers, Master Sergeant Paul Adkins, in April 2010 about his gender identity disorder.
“I’ve had it for very long time,” he wrote. “I thought a career in military would get rid of it. . . . now the consequences of it are dire.”
Manning went on to say that it had been the cause of pain and confusion and remarked, “I don’t know what to do anymore.” The constant coverup had worn him down and had made it difficult for him to work, to sleep and to relate to other people, he wrote.
“My entire life feel like a bad dream without end,” he wrote Adkins.
The court’s presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, will now draw a report of recommendations of what charges, if any, Manning should face in a court martial. That report, which has to be completed by Jan. 16, will go to the special court-martial convening authority Col. Carl R. Coffman, commander of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall who will then make a recommendation to the general convening authority, Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, who will make the final decision. Though there’s no hard deadline for Linnington’s decision, that process is expected to take several months.
More to come