FORT MEADE, Md. – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning’s decision to release classified U.S. government secrets came in late December 2009, when he was new to Iraq and learned to his horror that a family of five was grievously injured by a roadside bomb.
David Coombs, defense attorney for the 25-year-old enlistee, said at the opening Monday of Manning’s long-awaited court-martial that on Christmas Eve that year a vehicle with two adults and three children pulled to the side of the road to let an Army convoy pass, only to hit a roadside bomb. “All five of the occupants were taken to the hospital,” Coombs said. “One died en route.”
What troubled Manning more, he said, was that U.S. soldiers had cheered because their convoy missed the bomb. “He couldn’t stop thinking about that.”
Coombs said Manning placed the word “Humanist” on the back of his Army dog tag, signifying his religion. “He felt he needed to do something, something to make a difference, from that moment forward,” Coombs said. “In January 2010, he started selecting information he believed the public should see and should hear, and that that would make the world a better place.
“He believed if everyone knew it, it could not be used by the enemy. He started to believe this information should be made public. Americans should know what is happening on a day-to-day basis.”
Coombs acknowledged that Manning released more than 700,000 materials to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, but said, “he was hoping to make the world a better place. He was 22 years old, he was a little naive. But he was good-intentioned.”
He said Manning gave WikiLeaks a video of two journalists killed in a firefight because the military told their editors the video did not exist. He said Manning released documents on terror captives because the Obama administration did not close the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as promised.
But government prosecutors said earlier in the day that Manning developed a close relationship with Julian Assange, editor-in-chief at WikiLeaks, and was driven more by wanting to help WikiLeaks than any anti-war ideology.
Manning is charged with 21 offenses, including aiding the enemy, and faces life in prison if convicted.