FORT MEADE, Md. — U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was negligent in releasing classified secrets to WikiLeaks, but the former intelligence analyst did not know al-Qaida would see the material, a defense attorney said today.
During closing arguments, attorney David Coombs said the soldier did not have "evil intent," a key point prosecutors must prove to convict Manning of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge he faces and one that could land him in prison for the rest of his life. Coombs disputed what prosecutors said a day earlier, that Manning was a traitor whose only mission in Iraq was to give classified information to the anti-secrecy website and bask in the attention.
"He's not seeking attention. He's saying he's willing to accept the price" for what he has done, Coombs said.
After Coombs finished his three-hour argument, there was a smattering of applause from Manning supporters, who were quickly hushed by the judge hearing the case.
"All right, that's enough," said judge Col. Denise Lind. "This is a court of law. I would ask, please, that you keep your reactions muted."
Meanwhile, one of Manning's most visible supporters was banned from the trial after the judge said someone posted threats online. Clark Stoeckley, a college art instructor from New Jersey, confirmed he was the one booted.
Stoeckley attended often as a sketch artist, arriving each day in a white box truck with bold words painted on the sides: "WikiLeaks TOP SECRET Mobile Information Collection Unit."
A tweet Thursday night from an account Stoeckley used said: "I don't know how they sleep at night but I do know where." It was removed today and Stoeckley told The Associated Press on Twitter he couldn't comment.
Inside the courtroom, a few spectators smiled — as did Manning — when Coombs mocked a former Army supervisor who testified last week that Manning told her the American flag meant nothing to him and that she suspected before they deployed to Iraq that Manning was a spy. Coombs noted she had not written up a report on Manning's alleged disloyalty, though had written ones on him taking too many smoke breaks and drinking too much coffee.
Manning, 25, is charged with 21 offenses, including federal espionage, theft and computer fraud charges.
A native of Crescent, Okla., Manning has acknowledged giving WikiLeaks some 700,000 battlefield reports, diplomatic cables and videos. But he says he didn't believe the information would harm troops in Afghanistan and Iraq or threaten national security.
"The amount of the documents in this case, actually is the best evidence that he was discreet in what he chose because if he was indiscriminate, if he was systematically harvesting, we wouldn't be talking about a few hundred thousand documents — we'd be talking about millions of documents," Coombs said.
Coombs said giving the material to WikiLeaks was no different than giving it to a newspaper.
"That's giving information to a legitimate news organization in order to hold the government accountable," Coombs said.
The government disagreed and said Manning would also be charged if he had leaked the classified material to the media.
Coombs also showed three snippets of video from a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack Manning leaked, showing troops firing on a small crowd of men on a Baghdad sidewalk, killing at least nine men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. Coombs said the loss of civilian lives shocked and horrified the young soldier.
"You have to look at that from the point of view of a guy who cared about human life," Coombs said.
Lind will deliberate after closing arguments, but it's not clear when she will rule.
Speaking for more than five hours Thursday, Maj. Ashden Fein told the judge Manning gave secrets to a group of anarchists, knowing the material would be seen by the terrorist group al-Qaida.
"WikiLeaks was merely the platform which Pfc. Manning used to ensure all the information was available for the world, including enemies of the United States," Fein said.
Coombs has said Manning was troubled by what he saw in the war — and at the same time was struggling as a gay man in the era of "don't ask don't tell." Those struggles made him want to do something to make a difference and he hoped revealing what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. diplomacy would inspire debate and reform in American foreign and military policy.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said today in a telephone press conference the prosecution engaged in "name calling" in its final arguments.
"A prosecution only engages in name calling when it has no evidence," he said.
He said if the aiding the enemy charge is allowed to stand it will be "the end of national security journalism in the United States."
He accused the Obama administration of a "war on whistleblowers" and a "war on journalism."
The verdict and any sentence will be reviewed, and could be reduced, by the commander of the Military District of Washington, currently Maj. Gen. Jeffery S. Buchanan.
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