Military trial begins for Army private in WikiLeaks scandal

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FORT MEADE, Md. -- A military prosecutor told a judge Monday that Pfc. Bradley Manning was no ordinary leaker, as the court-martial opened for the former Army intelligence analyst who has confessed to being the source for vast archives of secret military and diplomatic documents made public by WikiLeaks.

"This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy -- material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk," said the prosecutor, Army Capt. Joe Morrow.

But a defense lawyer for Pvt. Manning told the judge that his client had been "young, naive but good-intentioned," and that he had, in fact, tried to make sure that the several hundred thousand documents he released would not cause harm.

"He was selective," defense attorney David Coombs said. "He had access to literally hundreds of millions of documents as an all-source analyst, and these were the documents that he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place."

The dueling portrayals underscored the oddity at the heart of the trial, which is expected to last as long as 12 weeks.

There is no doubt that Pvt. Manning did most of what he is accused is doing, and he has already pleaded guilty to 10 charges for that conduct, for which he could be sentenced to as much as 20 years.

But his plea was not part of any deal with the government, and prosecutors are moving forward with the trial because they hope to convict him of a far more serious set of charges, including violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy, that could result in a life sentence.

The government's decision not to accept a plea deal with the young private and instead to pursue life imprisonment is just one piece of the aggressive tactics the Obama administration has used in its pursuit of leakers. The administration has brought six prosecutions in leak-related cases, compared with three under all previous presidents.

In his 58-minute opening presentation, Capt. Morrow cited logs of searches and downloads from Pvt. Manning's classified computer, chat logs with a person who he contended was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, recovered files that had been deleted from Pvt. Manning's personal computer and other such records to show the pace and scale of his downloads.

Capt. Morrow's portrayal dovetailed in many ways with Pvt. Manning's own confession in February, but the prosecutor appeared to be laying the groundwork to argue that the private started downloading files earlier in his deployment than he had confessed to doing, and that he played a more active role in interacting with WikiLeaks. Capt. Morrow also said the government would show that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had requested and obtained an archive of wartime incident reports in Afghanistan that Pvt. Manning gave to WikiLeaks.

But Mr. Coombs rejected the notion that Pvt. Manning was working for WikiLeaks and tried to show that his client's mindset and motivations were focused on helping society, not the enemy. He said Pvt. Manning was "not a typical soldier" when he deployed at age 22, but rather a "humanist" who valued all life, and who was also struggling with his own gender identity at the time -- both of which Mr. Coombs said influenced his decision to try to change the world.

Pvt. Manning's disclosures lifted the veil of secrecy on matters such as the effect of the wars on civilians; on the evidence -- or lack of it -- against Guantanamo detainees; and on secret diplomatic dealings by the United States and other governments.

nation


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