FORT MEADE, Md. - The court martial for the young U.S. Army soldier accused of the greatest intelligence leak in U.S. history started Monday, featuring strong words from the prosecution, who says they can prove Bradley Manning gave classified information to senior al-Qaida officials via the website WikiLeaks.
Defense attorneys countered that their "young, naive" client became jaded and troubled by the war in Iraq, where he served from late 2009 until his arrest in May 2010. He leaked information while serving as an intelligence analyst in an attempt "to make the world a better place."
Manning sat quietly in the courtroom on the first day of the proceedings, wearing his dress blue uniform and military eyeglasses with close-cropped hair. He has pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, all for the more minor offenses. Presiding judge Army Col. Denise Lind confirmed he understood the charges against him and his rights within the military justice system.
His simple responses of "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, your honor" came almost exactly three years after he was arrested in Iraq and later charged with leaking 700,000 pages of military documents. These included personal information of U.S. troops serving in active war zones, and footage reportedly depicting a U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians, including a Reuters reporter.
The prosecution began opening remarks with other reported words of Manning's, including a May 21, 2010 message: "If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week for eight plus months, what would you do?"
"This is what happens when arrogance meets access to sensitive information," began Army Capt. Joe Morrow, one of the three prosecuting attorneys present on Monday. The government's evidence will show Manning "systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of pages" of classified documents and "willingly dumped it" on the Internet making the information available to the enemy, he said.
The prosecution's witness lineup will include the original forensic examiners who searched Manning's quarters and computers following his arrest, as well as his intelligence analyst instructors who will verify that he understood his actions, Morrow said.
A "government official" will also testify that he recovered "several items of digital media" from Osama bin Laden's compound. It has been rumored that a member of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six, responsible for the raid, would testify in closed session.
Morrow says that Manning knew the difference between open source information and classified documents that could assist the enemy, adding that the prosecution had evidence Manning had downloaded the entire "Combined Information and Data Network Exchange" that contained personal information for every troop serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense attorney David Coombs began his opening statement by setting the stage from Dec. 24, 2009, when Manning was working in an intelligence headquarters at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad. He was monitoring a convoy that came under attack by an improvised explosive device. All U.S. servicemembers escaped unscathed, Coombs said, partly because a car full of locals had pulled over for the convoy and absorbed part of the blast.
"Everyone...was celebrating. Everyone was happy," said Coombs, who gestured to his client. "Everyone but Pfc. Manning."
"He couldn't celebrate," he continued. "He couldn't forget about the lives that were lost that day. He couldn't forget about the lives of the families that were impacted on that Christmas Eve."
This inspired Manning to seek out information he thought the American public deserved to know, which would "make the world a better place," Coombs said. This included day-to-day on-the-ground reports of military action that had happened more than 72 hours prior.
He also found what appears to be video footage of a 2007 Apache helicopter strike near Baghdad that led to the death of a Reuters reporter among other civilians. Manning found portions of the transcript from the air crew, sections of which appeared in David Finkel's book "The Good Soldiers," leading Manning to believe this information had already been released, Coombs said.