3 Days In, WikiLeaks Trial Comes Into Focus
FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — Three days into Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court-martial for giving thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, prosecutors have shown the soldier was trained to guard classified information and knew it could easily fall into enemy hands, yet defied promises to protect it.
At the same time, the defense has revealed that Manning and other intelligence analysts worked in a relaxed atmosphere in Iraq, watching movies, playing computer games and listening to music when they were supposed to be producing reports from secret government databases to help U.S. capture enemy combatants. Manning’s defense has also tried to show he meant no harm to fellow soldiers, confidential sources or national security when he released sensitive material to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
Manning is charged under federal espionage and computer fraud laws, but the most serious offense the military has accused him of is aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence. To convict him of that, prosecutors must prove Manning knew the material he leaked would be seen by al-Qaida.
On Wednesday, Jihrleah Showman, who worked with Manning in Baghdad, testified that during the first three months of their deployment in late 2009 and early 2010, soldiers often spent working hours watching movies they brought in or listening to music they found on a shared hard drive reserved for classified material. She said the brigade commander ordered them to stop in February 2010.
Defense attorney David Coombs asked one of Manning’s supervisors, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kyle Balonek, if music was allowed on the secure network. Balonek became evasive.
“It was there, sir,” he said. “I don’t know if it was authorized or not.”
Balonek was reprimanded for failing to supervise Manning in Baghdad.
Manning, 25, has acknowledged downloading hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports and video and State Department diplomatic cables to compact disks at work, and then using his personal computer to send the files to WikiLeaks.
Balonek acknowledged there were no restrictions on the type of information intelligence analysts could download from secure databases to workplace computers connected to the network. He also said he witnessed Manning signing an agreement not to disclose classified information without authorization, one of two that Manning signed as part of his training.
Showman said analysts had access to many kinds of information, but that didn’t mean they were supposed to look at all of it.
“It was your responsibility to look at things you needed,” she said. “Just because you had a secret clearance doesn’t mean you have legal access to see everything that has secret classification over it.”
Shortly before his arrest, Manning was disciplined for punching Showman in the face in what she has described as one of several violent outbursts both before and during their deployment. She did not testify about the punch Wednesday but could be recalled later.
Manning’s lawyer has called him a “young, naive but good-intentioned” soldier, but prosecutors say he put secrets directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden.
His trial, which is being heard by a judge instead of a jury, is expected to run all summer.
On Tuesday, an instructor testified Manning was a serious, but pesky and inquisitive student who was ridiculed by classmates during advanced intelligence training in 2008 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
“At times, it was difficult to continue the lesson because he was always, `Why is that? What if?”‘ instructor Troy Moul said.
His unit supervisor, retired Sgt. 1st Class Brian Madrid, said Manning got in trouble for posting a YouTube video to family and friends in which he described what he was learning. Although the video revealed no classified information, Manning was trained to avoid disclosing any information about military intelligence online because it could be seen by militant Islamic insurgency groups, including al-Qaida.
As a corrective measure, Manning had to give a classroom presentation about operational security, Madrid said. When he asked Manning if he understood what he did wrong, “he said he understood it and it won’t happen again,” Madrid said.
The trial for the soldier from Crescent, Okla., has taken on a clandestine feel. Large parts of the proceedings were expected to be closed to the public. Many documents have been withheld or heavily redacted and photographers were blocked from getting a good shot of the soldier earlier this week.
The court-martial began Monday under a barrage of heavy restrictions, but the military has since relaxed some of the rules.
Manning supporters wearing “truth” T-shirts had to turn them inside out before entering the courtroom, but now they are allowed. Reporters covering the hearings were asked to sign a document saying they would withhold the names of spokespeople on-site because the military said some people directly involved in the case had received death threats. The Associated Press signed the document the first two days, but protested it. On Wednesday, an AP reporter and photographer crossed out the section pertaining to anonymity before signing it and were allowed to cover the trial.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)