By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun
7:06 PM EST, December 10, 2011
To his supporters, Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning is a hero, the whistle-blower who revealed U.S. war crimes and diplomatic double-dealing in the Pentagon records and State Department cables he is alleged to have sent to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks.
To the government, which is bringing criminal charges against the former intelligence analyst, he is a turncoat who endangered lives and damaged relations with allies by stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
But papers filed by his attorney suggest a third, more complex profile: a skilled computer technician who struggled with mental health, emotional and behavioral problems. A bright young man troubled by U.S. involvement in Iraq. A gay soldier isolated from his fellow troops in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Manning, 23, is scheduled to appear at Fort Meade this week for a preliminary hearing on charges including aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act.
He is suspected of leaking field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables that included analyses and observations of foreign leaders and governments, and video footage of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed 12 in Baghdad.
The disclosure has been called one of the largest security breaches in U.S. history. Only Manning has been arrested.
The Article 32 hearing, scheduled to begin Friday, would be Manning's first public appearance since his arrest May 2010 at a U.S. base in Iraq. An independent investigating officer will hear testimony and arguments before recommending whether the case should be referred to a court-martial.
If convicted of the charges, Manning could face life in prison. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense, but Army prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty.
Also facing possible criminal prosecution by the United States is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published the material on the Internet. Assange is now in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden over allegations including rape.
The hearing will be a return to Maryland for Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before enlisting in the Army four years ago.
Manning's attorney has limited comments on the case to blog posts and court filings. Attorney David E. Coombs has cautioned against inferring defense strategy from the court papers, but the witness list and evidence motions he filed this month do suggest themes he might pursue during the hearing.
The 48 witnesses he requested include supervisors and fellow soldiers who, he says, would testify that Manning "should not have been a soldier," "seemed to act immature," "was not receptive to commands," and "was suffering from extreme emotional issues."
Coombs says one witness would describe finding Manning "curled in the fetal position in the Brigade conference room, rocking himself back and forth" and another would say his unit "failed to properly respond to the issues that PFC Manning was obviously struggling with."
Coombs has also requested testimony from a psychologist who evaluated Manning in December 2009. The psychologist determined that Manning was "potentially dangerous to himself and others" and recommended that his weapon be taken from him, according to Coombs.
The witness list also includes a supervisor who would testify that she recommended Manning not be deployed to Iraq "due to his emotional issues," the lawyer says.
Coombs says the supervisor would describe a debate among soldiers in the intelligence facility in which Manning worked about the actions of the Apache helicopter crew in the attack that killed 12 people, including a Reuters journalist and his driver.
The witnesses are described but not identified in the version of the list that was cleared for public release. One, Coombs says, would testify that Manning was upset by a report that "some Iraqis or possibly some Moroccans" had been arrested for printing documents critical of the Iraqi government.
According to Coombs, the witness would say that "if there was a moment in which PFC Manning may have snapped, this would have been it."
Another would testify that Manning confided to her that he was gay, feared losing his job and "felt like he had no one to talk to," Coombs says. Others would say Manning was "picked on" by fellow troops "because they assumed he was gay" and that "very few people would talk to" him.
The government has opposed the participation of most of the witnesses requested by Coombs, including mental health providers and key members of Manning's brigade.
In court filings, the government argues that testimony about his mental health and the decision to deploy him are irrelevant to the case "and will only serve to distract from the relevant issues." Coombs has asked the investigating officer to compel the participation of all witnesses.
He has also filed motions asking the Army to turn over assessments by the State Department and Pentagon that he says concluded the leaks "caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad" and that the information "was either dated, represented low-level opinions or was already commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures."
He has also requested the presence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who he says will affirm those opinions. Legal analysts say it unlikely either will be compelled to testify.
Nothing in the witness list or the requests for evidence appears to suggest that the defense plans to claim that Manning did not leak the material.
Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard attorney who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, said the testimony and the evidence "could fall in the category of extenuation and mitigation."
"In other words, something that might soften the blow, in the event that he is convicted," Fidell said. "I don't see any of that information, even on a good day, as logically suggesting an acquittal, assuming he did what the government thinks he did."
Coombs has requested a video made when Manning was detained at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., in which he was ordered to surrender his clothing. He says the footage will support his claim of unlawful pretrial punishment.
The conditions of Manning's detention at Quantico — where he was held in a maximum-security, single-occupancy cell, placed on a prevention-of-injury order and allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock at night — drew concern from Amnesty International and a request to visit from a United Nations torture investigator.
President Barack Obama and Pentagon officials have defended the conditions of his detention. Manning was moved from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in April.
Baltimore peace activist Max Obuszewski was one of 33 Manning supporters arrested outside the entrance to Quantico during a demonstration in March.
Obuszewski says he has "no idea what Bradley Manning did or did not do" — but if he was a source for the material published by WikiLeaks, he is "one of the people responsible for the Arab Spring."
"A lot of people in the movements for democracy have read the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables," he said.
Manning's supporters — who include, most prominently, Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who released the Vietnam War records known as the Pentagon Papers — say the information he is accused of leaking was incorrectly and illegally classified. Whoever disclosed it should be protected from prosecution as a whistle-blower, they add.
Obuszewski says the Apache attack appears to be a "war crime."
"If Bradley Manning knows about war crimes, I would argue that this is information he has to release," Obuszewski said. "Whether it's classified et cetera, if you believe that there's violations of the law done by people above you in the chain of command, then you have to bring that information out."
In the video of the Apache attack, Americans can be heard laughing and calling the Iraqis "dead bastards."
The military concluded that the U.S. troops acted appropriately. It said the targets included insurgents, and the equipment carried by the Reuters employees made them difficult to distinguish from combatants.
Obama has said that Manning broke the law.
"We're a nation of laws," he told a Manning supporter in April. "We don't individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law."
That exchange, captured on a cellphone and uploaded to YouTube, has led Coombs to request Obama's presence at Fort Meade "in order to discuss the issue of unlawful command influence."
The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits a superior officer in the chain of command from comments or actions that could influence the deliberations of a subordinate charged with handling a military justice matter. As president, Obama is the commander-in-chief of U.S. armed forces.
"I will bet my copy of the Manual for Court-Martial that neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton nor Secretary Gates ever testifies in this case," said Fidell, a co-founder and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. "I find it hard to believe that any investigating officer, or thereafter, any military judge, assuming this case goes to trial, would see them as critical to the development of the case or to the preservation of Manning's rights."
Fort Meade is one of three bases within the Military District of Washington that have a courtroom that can accommodate the proceeding, according to a spokeswoman. Officials are making plans to address interest in the case from the national and international media.
The hearing is expected to last five days. But it is unclear how much of the proceeding will take place in public — and how deeply it will delve into classified matters.
"It's kind of a fan dance," said Fidell. "The government has to make the point that this was a disclosure, an awful disclosure, without revealing more than the bare minimum about our security measures — and about the corrective measures that have been undertaken, as I'm sure they have, after the release."
The leaked material
WikiLeaks published a broad range of classified U.S. documents beginning in 2010. They include:
• Video footage of a July 12, 2007, Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including a Reuters journalist and his driver.
• Field reports from Afghanistan that included details of previously unreported civilian deaths and evidence of Pakistani and Iranian support of the Taliban.
• Field reports from Iraq that included details of previously unreported civilian deaths and reports of abuse, torture, rape and murder by Iraqi security forces.
• Diplomatic cables sent from embassies, consulates and other U.S. missions to the State Department between 1966 and 2010 containing analyses and assessments of foreign leaders and governments and economic and political conditions.