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Bradley Manning’s defense barred from arguing motive

WikiLeaks informant and Army private Bradley Manning won't be allowed to employ a "whistleblower defense," a military judge ruled in a pretrial hearing.


Curt Hopkins


Posted on Jan 18, 2013   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 3:13 am CDT

In the latest pretrial hearing on Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of sharing secret materials with WikiLeaks in 2010, the judge overseeing the case has ruled that Manning’s attorney may not introduce motive in his defense. This strikes a significant blow against David Coombs’ strategy on behalf of Manning.

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, ruled that Coombs may introduce motive in the sentencing hearing as a mitigating factor, but not as an element of the trial proper.

This “whistleblower” defense would have sought to prove that Manning’s intent was not to prosecute a beef against the U.S. military or the government, but rather to expose wrongdoing for which there were no appropriate avenues within the Army hierarchy. That option is no longer available to him.

The judge also ruled as inadmissible materials that support the defense’s assertion that the leak to WikiLeaks caused little to no material damage to the interests of the United States, information Coombs is said to have secured from U.S. governmental and military assessments.

The 22 charges against Manning include “aiding the enemy,” a capital crime, for which prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty. If found guilty of this charge, he may instead be sentenced to life in prison.

The prosecution is likely to introduce information indicating the terrorist behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, requested to examine materials transmitted to WikiLeaks by Manning, according to the Guardian. Some of the leaked documents were later found on Bin Laden’s computer.

“The refusal to allow Manning to present evidence of his motivation is certainly very curious,” Hanni Fakhoury, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Daily Dot, allowing that he was no specialist in the area of military law.

“Generally, in civilian criminal law,” he said, “every criminal statute has both an actus reus, a criminal act, and a mens rea, or certain state of mind the defendant had at the time of the crime. For example, its a more serious crime to kill someone when you have the intent to kill (i.e., first degree murder) than when you do something reckless that causes someone to die (i.e., manslaughter) even though you didn’t intend to kill him… It seems his intentions would be relevant to Manning’s mindset in leaking the docs. and that may make him liable under a less serious criminal statute.”

Lind did grant the defense the ability to speak to motive in two areas. Motive can be employed to argue Manning did not know his leaks would be seen by Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist group and that he selected the documents to be leaked based on his judgment that they would not harm the United States or be used against it by a foreign agent.

Photo by Martin Bowling/Flickr

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*First Published: Jan 18, 2013, 6:29 pm CST