Attorneys for Pfc. Bradley Manning opened their defense of the Army analyst Monday by portraying him as a computer whiz operating under loose guidelines whose decision to leak reams of classified documents was based on a well-intentioned sense of idealism.
As Manning's court-martial at Fort Meade entered its sixth week, his defense team also filed a series of motions asking the military judge to dismiss the most serious charges against him — including that he aided the enemy by providing diplomatic cables, war logs and combat videos to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
In some of the most compelling testimony, a civilian woman with whom Manning frequently conversed over instant messaging read aloud from the transcript of those exchanges as defense lawyers attempted to depict the 25-year-old former Marylander as someone who cared deeply about the military and his country.
"He said that he was concerned with saving the lives of families in foreign countries … and [the] soldiers themselves and [to] make sure they got home safe," said Lauren McNamara, a transgender woman who was a man at the time of her computer conversations with Manning in 2009. "He considered human life to be valuable above all."
But in their cross-examination of five witnesses called by the defense — several of whom served with Manning in Iraq — Army prosecutors suggested he was well aware that the information he allowed to be posted on the Internet was classified and that he knew it had the potential to harm his fellow soldiers.
When prosecutors asked McNamara whether Manning had also talked to her about activism, she quoted from the transcript of their chats: " 'Activism is fun,' " McNamara quoted Manning as writing. " 'It doesn't do much good unless you get hurt, however.' "
Manning's lawyers, who had offered their opening statement in June, began Monday's argument by showing a now well-known 39-minute helicopter video from a 2007 attack in Baghdad that killed two Reuters news staff members. Manning has acknowledged that he leaked the grainy video, which shows missiles being fired into a building over hectic radio chatter.
WikiLeaks posted the video in 2010 under the headline "Collateral Murder." The Pentagon concluded the helicopter pilots had no way of knowing the journalists were among the suspected insurgents.
Led by attorney David Coombs, Manning's defense filed more than 40 pages of motions over the weekend asking the military judge, Army Col. Denise R. Lind, to dismiss the case. Lind gave the government until Thursday to respond to those motions.
Most of Monday's hearing focused on an intelligence unit deployed in Iraq that the defense portrayed as having vast access to classified material with little oversight or procedures to ensure its secrecy. Witnesses noted that the computer systems were so prone to failures that analysts backed up classified data on CDs so they could continue to work when computers crashed.
Lawyers quizzed witnesses about why soldiers were allowed to listen to music or watch movies on Army computers and also download software onto those computers. Manning is accused of installing software to allow high-speed downloading of more than 250,000 State Department files.
"He was good. He was our best analyst by far when it came to developing products," Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Ehresman said of Manning.
But under cross-examination, Ehresman said that although he gave Manning the top rating of 10 for preparing reports, he gave him only a 5 for his analysis of intelligence material because he tended to jump to conclusions.
The Manning trial is taking place alongside the dramatic story of another leaker, Edward Snowden. The 29-year-old former contractor for the National Security Agency publicized documents revealing secret U.S. intelligence programs and is now being aided by WikiLeaks. Snowden also lived briefly in Maryland.
The prosecution rested last week after five weeks of testimony, some of it in closed session.
Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, has admitted leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. He faces charges that include violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. If convicted of the latter charge, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
He has pleaded guilty to lesser charges related to leaking the material, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Manning, who lived with an aunt in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before he enlisted in 2007, was arrested in Baghdad in May 2010. He has been detained since the arrest.
He has become a hero to some anti-war activists, who say footage of the 2007 Apache helicopter attack appears to show evidence of a war crime.
Reuters contributed to this article.
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