News24

Manning seeks to reduce charges

2011-12-22 23:03

Fort Meade - US Army prosecutors said Thursday that Private Bradley Manning "abused our trust" and should face a court-martial for one of the most serious intelligence breaches in US history.

Defence attorneys for the WikiLeaks suspect argued meanwhile at the conclusion of a seven-day hearing on this military base outside Washington that the charges against the 24-year-old soldier should be reduced.

"The government overcharged in this case," Manning's civilian defence attorney, David Coombs, told the US Army officer who is to decide whether Manning should face a court-martial.

"You're in a unique position to provide the United States government with something that it needs and that is a reality check," Coombs said.

Manning faces life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges he is facing.

Maximum punishment

Coombs said the charges initially filed against Manning carried a maximum punishment of 150 years in prison but "the government wasn't satisfied, instead they've also charged my client with aiding the enemy".

Coombs said the charge of aiding the enemy and several other counts should be dropped and the remaining combined into three charges that carry the possibility of a combined 30 years in prison.

"Thirty years is more than sufficient as the maximum punishment in this case," he said.

But US Army Captain Ashden Fein said Manning was "trained and trusted to use multiple intelligence systems" and he "used that training to defy that trust".

"He abused our trust and mined as much possible, knowing it would be released and accessible to the enemies of our nation," Fein said.

Manning is accused of scooping up US military reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, State Department cables, Guantanamo detainee assessments and videos of US air strikes and passing the material, much of which was stamped classified, to WikiLeaks.

The US government has said the biggest leak of classified US material since Daniel Ellsberg turned the Pentagon Papers over to The New York Times in 1971 endangered informants and sources and damaged US national security and foreign relations.

Personal problems

"Ultimately he aided the enemies of the United States by indirectly giving them intelligence through WikiLeaks," pulling more than 700 000 documents from secure networks and providing them to the site, Fein said.

Manning, he added, used a WikiLeaks "most wanted" list as the "guiding light on what information to harvest".

Coombs said the government filed so many charges against Manning "in order to strong-arm a plea from my client".

The presiding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, is not expected to make a decision on whether or not to proceed to a court-martial for several weeks.

Coombs also urged Almanza to take Manning's personal problems into consideration.

"You need to consider not only how certain things happened," Coombs said. "You need to understand why it occurred."

Manning was suffering from "gender identity disorder", Coombs said, and he quoted from an anguished letter the soldier wrote to the sergeant in his unit, Paul Adkins.

National security

"It's haunting me more and more as I get older," Manning said of his gender struggles, adding that they were making his "entire life feel like a bad dream that won't end".

"That's the letter sergeant first class received and he did nothing," he said.

"The military's lack of response smacks of injustice," he said.

Coombs also quoted from three memorandums written by Adkins in which he discussed what he called Manning's "mental instability" and "bizarre behaviour".

"He writes the memorandums and does nothing," Coombs said.

Coombs also dismissed US government claims that the release of the classified material by WikiLeaks had caused damage to US national security and foreign relations.

"The simple fact is that it hasn't caused harm," he said. "If anything, it has helped."

Dressed in a green camouflage uniform of the 10th Mountain Division, Manning largely ignored the members of the public and media attending the hearing, focusing instead on the witnesses, whispering to his lawyers and taking notes.

Coombs said Manning was "young and idealistic" and had a "strong moral compass".

"History will ultimately judge my client," he said.