Bradley Manning trial starts Monday
Private sent classified documents to WikiLeaks
WASHINGTON – Amid secrecy and spectacle, the long-awaited court-martial of WikiLeaks linchpin Bradley Manning starts Monday.
The Army private first class already knows he’s going to prison, having previously pleaded guilty to 10 charges relating to the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of government documents. Now, in a tightly guarded military courtroom at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, Manning will face more serious charges, including aiding the enemy.
If convicted on the remaining charges, the slightly built, 25-year-old Manning could spend the rest of his life in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Whatever happens, the former intelligence analyst’s trial has already incited tough questions about military justice, the public’s right to know and the price that’s paid by a self-styled whistleblower.
“I believed that if the public, especially the American public, had access to the information - this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Manning explained in court Feb. 28.
In what’s been described as the largest leak of government documents in U.S. history, Manning acknowledges turning over to WikiLeaks some 250,000 State Department cables and half-a-million Army documents. WikiLeaks then published the documents online, as a major part of a broader campaign to disclose government actions. Army prosecutors say the massive document dump endangered U.S. national security and put lives at risk.
Prosecutors, for instance, have indicated they will present forensic evidence that WikiLeaks material was viewed by the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
An estimated 150 witnesses are expected to testify during the trial, which Manning and his civilian attorney, retired Army officer David Coombs, have chosen to be held before a judge alone instead of a military panel. The trial is expected to last about three months.
To secure a conviction, prosecutors must prove that Manning knew the documents he provided WikiLeaks would be seen by al-Qaida members or other enemies of the United States. Under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, someone can be convicted for aiding the enemy by conveying intelligence “by direct or indirect means.”
When it comes to communicating with the enemy, Article 104 adds, the “intent, content and method of communication are immaterial.”
The military crime carries the potential for a death sentence, though prosecutors have already said they won’t ask that it be applied to Manning if he is convicted.
Manning says he acted out of exemplary motives.
The State Department cables, Manning declared in his nearly 35-page Feb. 28 statement, “documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity,” while he said Army materials revealed the “seemingly delightful bloodlust” of soldiers who were “congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”
Manning’s stated motives in leaking the documents, and the myriad, sometimes graphic details he revealed about U.S. diplomacy and war-fighting, have made the Oklahoma native a hero to some. On Saturday afternoon, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others affiliated with the Bradley Manning Support Network rallied at the Fort Meade main gate, outside of Washington.
“We are all Bradley Manning,” demonstrators chanted.