Inside Story America

Bradley Manning trial: What is at stake?

We discuss the impact of the case against the whistleblower for leaking state secrets into the “lap of the enemy”.

Bradley Manning, a United States Army soldier, has gone on trial, charged with the largest leak of classified documents in US history. 

In an hour-long opening statement at Manning’s court martial hearing, Captain Joe Morrow, the lawyer for the US government has accused Private Manning of leaking secrets into the “lap of the enemy” claiming Manning had been motivated by a desire to gain ‘notoriety’ that had led him to disregard his training in order to ‘aid our adversaries’.

Private First Class Bradley Manning, is facing 21 counts of leaking classified information, more than 700,000 documents, including intelligence reports, videos, and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

They included years of sensitive information relating to US foreign policy, Guantanamo Bay, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I am ashamed to say as an American and as a former military officer, if he had committed atrocities as opposed to exposing them he would be by all odds a free man today.

by Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst and Pentagon Papers whistleblower

Twenty-five-year-old Manning also faces nine charges dealing with his use of military computers, including circumventing security mechanisms and improper storage of classified information. He is charged with theft of public records.

The government alleges that the various sets of documents Manning leaked were ‘things of value’. He also faces charges of taking national defence information and retaining or delivering it to unauthorised people.

The other charges of computer espionage stem from the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, modified by the Bush administration to fall under the Federal Crimes of Terrorism list.

Manning, a former intelligence analyst, took responsibility for releasing documents to WikiLeaks and explained his motivations for doing so, in a statement he read in court in February:

“I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground … I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Manning then said he felt good about what we had done: “I felt I had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience based upon what I had seen and read about and knew were happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan every day.”

Manning and his supporters contend he was performing a public service by releasing the material which exposed the US military’s ‘bloodlust’, and provided details of torture and civilian killings.

He has already pleaded guilty to lesser offences, including that he transmitted the classified information to the whistleblowing website. These carry a maximum sentence of 20 years but if he is convicted of the most serious charges brought by the prosecution, including that of ‘aiding the enemy’, Private Manning could spend the rest of his life in prison.

So, what is at stake with Bradley Manning’s trial?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses the trial with guests: Chase Madar, a lawyer and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning‘ Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school; and Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst and whistleblower, who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

“There are many people who think that Bradley Manning should be put away for a long time because the law is the law and he broke the law; but we find especially in the military that very often the law is not the law. Military law has been infinitely accommodating when it comes to acts of rape and sexual assaults – it’s a serious problem in all branches of the military service – ditto for soldiers who kill civilians, those crimes are not prosecuted aggressively.”

 Chase Madar, a lawyer