Manning is whistleblower, not traitor

2013-07-26 21:56
Bradley Manning. (File, AFP)

Bradley Manning. (File, AFP)

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Fort Meade - The US soldier accused of the biggest leak of classified information in the nation's history "is a whistleblower" and not a traitor as the government claims, Bradley Manning's defence lawyer said at his court-martial on Friday.

Army Private First Class Manning spilled secrets to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website because he wanted to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military and diplomatic policy out of concern for fellow Americans, the defense argued.

"That is a whistleblower, period. That is somebody who wants to inform the American public," defence lawyer David Coombs told Army Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the trial.

Prosecutors, in five hours of closing arguments on Thursday, called the 25-year-old intelligence analyst a traitor, not a whistleblower, for releasing more than 700 000 documents through WikiLeaks. They said the short, bespectacled Manning had betrayed the trust his nation put in him when he released documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The defence said he had been mischaracterised and recalled one of Manning's online chats in which he said, "I feel a great responsibility and duty to people, it's strange, I know. I place value on people first."

"It's an inconvenient truth for the government" that Manning cared about people, Coombs told the judge.

Manning is accused of 21 criminal counts, the most serious of which, aiding the enemy, carries a life sentence.

The case has pitted civil liberties groups, which seek increased transparency into the actions of the US military and security apparatus, against the government, which has argued that the low-level analyst, who was stationed in Baghdad at the time, endangered lives.

The WikiLeaks website, which in Manning's case published classified files, combat videos and diplomatic cables, has become controversial both for exposing secret data and for its founder, Julian Assange, who has been staying in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than a year to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq.

He chose a trial by a military judge, rather than a panel of military jurors.

In February, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including misusing classified information, such as military databases in Iraq and Afghanistan and files pertaining to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The court-martial has recently been overshadowed to some extent by the case of fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed to Britain's Guardian newspaper early last month the details of alleged secret US surveillance programs tracking Americans' telephone and internet use.

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