FORT MEADE, Md. – In closing arguments Thursday, Army prosecutors presented a damning portrait of Pfc. Bradley Manning as a soldier who used his top-secret security clearance to scour classified computer networks for documents and burn the data onto discs with the express purpose of leaking it.
“I’m throwing everything I got on (Guantanamo) at you now,” Manning typed from his bunk south of Baghdad during an early morning online chat with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to a government presentation.
Defense attorney David Coombs did not dispute evidence that Manning leaked the data, but instead sought to show that the military environment in which Manning operated was dysfunctional and that Manning’s supervisors ignored ample warnings that the soldier was unstable. He also argued that the leaks did no harm.
“The sky is not falling,” Coombs said. “The sky has not fallen. The sky will not fall.”
The presentations by both sides marked the end of a seven-day Article 32 hearing at Maryland’s Fort Meade. The presiding officer, essentially a judge for the proceedings, is charged with using the evidence presented in open court along with 300,000 pages of government documents to recommend whether Manning should face a court-martial. The recommendation is due by Jan. 16.
Manning is charged with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act, for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy website. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
The hearing offered the first public glimpse of Manning since he was arrested 19 months ago. He attended each day, sitting in the middle seat at the defense table and frequently taking notes. He appeared to be healthy and alert, often conferring with his lawyers. The conditions of his confinement have drawn concern from Amnesty International.
Prosecutors argued that Manning released more than 700,000 documents, in some cases using a computer program that he installed on a classified network to help him copy as much secret information as possible.
They alleged that he intended to leak even more information, but was stymied when three months’ worth of diplomatic cables he snatched were accidentally corrupted.
The government prosecutor, Capt. Ashden Fein, introduced snippets from three chat sessions between Manning and a man Fein said was Assange. In one, Manning asked the WikiLeaks founder for help cracking a government code so he could troll through government data without leaving digital fingerprints, Fein said.
Most jarringly, the government in a Power Point presentation showed what it contends was an exchange between Manning and Assange that occurred at 1:42 a.m. on March 8, 2010, as Manning was allegedly uploading secret assessments of Guantanamo detainees that WikiLeaks had publicly sought.
“I’m throwing everything I got on JTF-GITMO at you now,” Manning typed.
Assange, using an alias, replied: “Ok, great”
Manning provided a status update, saying he had uploaded about 36 percent of the documents.
Manning: “11-12 hours. Guessing since it’s been going 6 already.”
Fein showed that WikiLeaks had requested the Guantanamo assessments on a list of “most wanted” documents and said Manning viewed the website as “a guiding light.”
“We trained and trusted” Manning, Fein said. “He used that training to defy our trust.”
Coombs, Manning’s defense attorney, offered an alternative view of the leak, saying that “history will be the judge” of the security breach.
“Sunlight has always been the best disinfectant,” he said.