Fort Meade, Maryland – The military hearing against Pfc.closed on Thursday, with lawyers and onlookers alternately portraying him as a premeditated traitor or an accidental hero with emotional troubles.
In their summary arguments, military lawyers accused the slight, bespectacled private of deliberately using his training as an Army intelligence analyst and his security clearances to leak tens of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, intelligence reports and a video of a military helicopter attack that left 11 people dead.
The prosecutors showed what they described as a Qaeda propaganda video in which terrorist operatives talked about the ways they had been able to exploit the leaks, with one of them saying that Private Manning “aided in the publication of those files, knowing that our enemies would use those files.”
Private Manning’s lawyers did not argue that their client was innocent of the leaks. However, they compared the military’s case to the story of Chicken Little, saying that the files leaked to the antisecrecy organizationhad not damaged national security and that the government was “over-charging” their client, who faces life in prison.
WikiLeaks shared the files with several news organizations, including The New York Times. News accounts of the findings ignited international outrage.
The defense lawyers portrayed Private Manning, 24, as a man struggling with myriad emotional problems, stemming primarily from years of having to hide that he is gay. His lawyers said he reached out to his commanding officers for help and emotional support, but they ignored his problems. And, the lawyers said, Private Manning saw himself as a whistle-blower, not a traitor.
“My client was young,” said one of the defense lawyers, David Coombs. “He thought he could make a difference.”
The investigating officer overseeing the proceedings is expected to deliver his recommendations on whether to court-martial Private Manning on Jan. 16. Legal experts said it was almost certain that Private Manning would be tried on at least some of the 22 charges against him, which include aiding the enemy and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer.
If he is court-martialed on the more serious charges, Mr. Manning could face the death penalty. But prosecutors have said they would seek life in prison instead.
The case has ignited debates beyond the drab little courtroom here about whether the government keeps too many secrets, and whether the military systematically fails to provide the necessary support to minority and gay soldiers, and to protect them from abuses.
This article, “Hearing in Soldier’s WikiLeaks Case Ends,” originally appeared at The New York Times News Service.