Pfc. Bradley Manning, the US Army intelligence specialist accused of passing government secrets spent this, his 24th birthday in court as his lawyers argued that his status as a gay soldier before the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy played a key role in his actions.
Manning's lawyers unveiled a defense showing that his struggles as a gay soldier in an environment hostile to homosexuality contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material.
The Chicago Sun Times
reports that he is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive papers to the group WikiLeaks, including logs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also included were State Department cables and a military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, among them a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
The Obama Administration has stated that the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments. Manning’s lawyers argue that much of the information that was classified by the Pentagon posed no risk.
The military is conducting this hearing in a small courtroom on an Army post outside Washington to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring Manning to trial. It he is, he could face a term of life in prison as a traitor
Among the very first issues to arise at the hearing was whether Manning’s sexual orientation is relevant to the case against him. The charges against the young soldier are transcripts of online chats he conducted with a confidant-turned-government-informant in which Manning allegedly confesses his ties to WikiLeaks and also reveals that he is gay.
Major Matthew Kemkes, one of Manning's defense lawyers, asked Special Agent Toni Graham, an Army criminal investigator, whether she had spoken with anyone who thought Manning was gay or found evidence among his belongings relating to gender-identity disorder, the Army's way of describing homosexuality. Graham responded that such questions were irrelevant.
“We already knew before we arrived that Pfc. Manning was a homosexual.”
Kemkes disagreed with her assessment, saying that if the government can argue that Manning's intention was to leak secrets, then it follows that,
“What is going on in my client’s mind is very important.”
The first three witnesses brought by the government were military investigators. Special Agent Mark Mander testified he matched chat logs found on Manning's computer with ones found on the computer of Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who turned information about Manning over to government authorities.
Then, Captain Steven Lim, one of Manning's superiors in Iraq, pointed out searches he believed Manning did on government databases, by using keywords that Manning would not need for his regular intelligence duties in Iraq. He said the words included: "WikiLeaks," "Julian Assange" ('WikiLeaks' founder) and "Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments."
Captain Lim confirmed details about an email that Manning sent to another officer that included a picture of Manning dressed as a woman. The email included a plea that his confusion about his gender was preventing him from thinking clearly.
Special Agent Toni Graham told the hearing that Manning had few friends in his Iraq-based unit. She added that he kept a folder of articles on gender identity disorder in his sleeping quarters, including one titled "flight into hypermasculinity." And Special Agent Calder Robertson testified that Manning maintained an alter-ego called "Breanna Manning."
The defense pressed several of the witnesses on whether there was an investigative focus on Manning's issues of gender identity, saying the line of questioning gets at Manning's "state of mind" and whether he had "diminished capacity" at the time the government has accused him of leaking the materials.
In its cross-examination of Graham, Manning’s defense team tried to convince the court that not all of the material he's accused of leaking was classified. But Graham, as one of the investigators who collected evidence from Manning’s living quarters and workplace, testified that among the items seized was a DVD marked “secret” that contained a military video showing the incident in 2007 where Apache attack helicopters gunned down unarmed men in Iraq.
That video was taken from the cockpit of one helicopter and it was posted by WikiLeaks in April 2010. When it appeared, it sparked a controversy about the military's rules of engagement, and how to prevent killing civilians in the future. In the video, the pilots are laughing and referring to the men as “dead bastards.”
Kemkes, one of Manning’s lawyers, questioned Graham as to whether she knew that the video was unclassified. She said no, but Kemkes replied,
“In fact, it was an unclassified video.”
If it was unclassified, apparently no one knew it because when the video appeared on Wikileaks, the Pentagon called it a breach of national security.
The Baltimore Sun
reports that Manning’s appearance in the Fort Meade courtroom Friday and Saturday are the firs time he has been seen in public after 19 months in detention. The Oklahoma native arrived in court in Army camouflage fatigues and wearing dark-rimmed glasses. Slight and serious, he took notes during the proceedings. And before he was escorted from the courtroom for a recess, Manning flipped over his notepad so no one could read it.
This hearing is open to the public. There is no judge, instead there is a presiding officer who is to deliver a recommendation as to whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial. Then, a military commander makes the final decision.
The international community has focused on this case, with many believing that the U.S. government has gone too far in seeking to punish Manning.