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3 years later, Bradley Manning finally has his day in court

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The case of Bradley Manning, the United States Army private accused of passing classified military and diplomatic documents to the whistle-blowing document-sharing website Wikileaks, has finally come to trial. It is expected to last up to three months and features among its witnesses Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned Manning in. 

It began Monday, June 3, at Fort Meade in Maryland. Trial hours are to run 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time each weekday. 

It has been more than three years since Manning was initially arrested in Iraq, where he was accused of downloading the secret documents. Military law specifies 120 days from day of detention to trial. 

In yesterday’s opening prosecution statement, Captain Joe Morrow told the court that Manning had been driven by a desire for “notoriety” to provide aid to the enemies of the U.S., according to the Guardian

Knowingly providing secret information to Al-Qaeda is the most serious of the 21 charges Manning faces. 

At a hearing in February, Private Manning pleaded guilty to nine lesser versions of these charges and an additional charge in full. Those pleas alone could earn the private 20 years in prison. If the prosecution is successful in proving he provided aid to the enemy, he would be facing a life sentence.

Chief prosecutor Captain Ashden Fein had shown the court during an earlier hearing a video of Al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gahdan referencing materials published by Wikileaks, which originally came from Manning. 

In his opening, Manning’s attorney David Coombs, on the other hand, maintained his client was, at the time, “young, naïve, but good-intentioned,” attempting to ensure the 700,000 documents he had taken would not risk the lives of his fellow soldiers, according to the New York Times

“He was selective,” Mr. Coombs said. “He had access to literally hundreds of millions of documents as an all-source analyst, and these were the documents that he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place.”

Not so, argued Morrow.

“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet,” he told the judge, Col. Denise Lind, “into the hands of the enemy—material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk.”

The prosecution and the defence agree on few of the actions Manning took. Those include the prosecution’s contention that Manning released the emails of thousands of serving troops to Wikileaks and that he helped edit the Apache helicopter footage of Reuters reporters being killed, but differ starkly on the intent behind them and on their implications.

In these first two days of the trial, witnesses included several military crime scene investigators; Manning’s roommate, Specialist Baker; Army Computer Crimes Investigative Unit agents David Shaver and Mark Johnson; and Lamo. Over the next several days, a number of military personnel possibly from Manning’s unit are scheduled to testify.

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington is livetweeting the trial and independent journalist Kevin Gosztola is liveblogging it. The media coverage of the trial is a far cry from the rarely attended, less dramatic, but equally important pre-trial hearings. 

Photo via Wikimedia