Pfc. Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence officer who provided Wikileaks with an unprecedented trove of U.S. government documents, will hear his fate today in a small courtroom at Ft. Meade, Maryland. He is accused of the largest leak in American history, and the charges against him include "aiding the enemy," which carries a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.
The 25-year-old, who was born in Crescent, Oklahoma, chose to have his case heard by Lind, instead of a panel of military jurors. He was arrested in May, 2010, while serving in Iraq.
I observed the trial from the courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland. On Monday, Colonel Denise Lind, the judge in this court-martial, said she would be ready to present a verdict in the case at 1:00PM Eastern time on Tuesday.
The prosecution described Manning as a "traitor," and said that by leaking State Department cables, military reports, images and combat videos such as the one Wikileaks labeled "Collateral Murder", Manning effectively leaked that material to Al Qaeda and its former leader, Osama Bin Laden. They point to a chat log between Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in which Assange describes Wikileaks as the "first intelligence agency of the people."
On Thursday, closing statements for the prosecution lasted about 5 hours.
"Manning had general evil intent," lead government prosecutor Major Ashden Fein told the court. "He acted voluntarily and deliberately with his disclosures. … He was not a whistleblower. He was a traitor."
The defense called a total of ten witnesses, including Yochai Benkler, a Harvard professor who is the author of a widely-cited paper on the role WikiLeaks plays in what he terms "the networked fourth estate."
In his testimony, Benkler described Wikileaks as having played a legitimate role in a new world of journalism. The government's characterization of the group as an Anti-American espionage front was inaccurate, he argued. Benkler previously wrote that an "aiding the enemy" charge against Manning is "a clear and present danger to journalism in the national security arena."
Judge Col. Denise Lind denied the defense's request to find Manning not guilty of five counts related to "stealing information" from government databases, and denied the defense's request to declare a mistrial.
Members of the press covering the trial here at Ft. Meade are contained in a building about a quarter-mile from the brick courthouse where the trial is taking place. We are allowed internet access provided for us by the Army inside Smallwood Hall only when court is not in session, and we are not permitted to bring WiFi cards or other forms of cellular data to connect to other networks not provided for us by the Army. We are not permitted to use our cellphones or other mobile devices inside the media operations center.
Also inside Smallwood Hall each day are stenographers hired by Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which I am a board member. The transparency journalism advocacy group led a crowdfunding effort to place stenographers at the trial, and is publishing daily transcripts of proceedings. The government is not releasing its official transcripts.
Inside the actual courtroom, no electronic devices at all are allowed at any time, just pen and paper for reporters. We must pass through security screenings before entering either building, and as is customary, all areas are guarded and monitored by armed military police. Some security procedures are standard for court-martials on the Army base; others are ramped up for this high-profile and sensitive trial. Security procedures sometimes change from day to day.
Reporters are accompanied by an Army public affairs officer, or PAO, at all times, and may not move around the base without escort.
One likely scenario discussed among journalists inside Smallwood Hall is that Manning will be found guilty of all charges, including the Espionage Act charges that carry possible life imprisonment–and that this will be followed by a lengthy appeals process, which could go to the Supreme Court.
When he pleaded guilty to those charges, he spoke from a prepared 35-page statement to the court, explaining his motivation for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.
"I believe that if the general public… had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general."
During that court statement, Manning also said he attempted to contact the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico to leak the information to them. Those attempts failed, he said, and he decided to go to Wikileaks instead.
Major Fein argued that Manning was motivated by a desire for fame, and described a selfie Manning took after uploading documents for WikiLeaks.
"This is a picture of a person who thought he'd finally become famous," Fein told the court.
Defense attorney David Coombs began his much shorter opening statement with a vignette about a 2009 Christmas Eve incident in Manning's unit.
At the time, Manning was "22 years young" and "excited to help" his unit to analyze information to deter threats, Coombs said.
There was a roadside attack that left one civilian dead along the side of the road, but no soldiers were killed or injured, the lawyer added.
"Everyone was happy," Coombs said. "Everyone but Pfc. Manning. He couldn't celebrate. He couldn't be happy. He couldn't stop thinking about the life that was lost that day."
Not "a typical soldier," Manning wore customized dog tags branded with the word "humanist," indicating that he placed "people first" and put a "value on human life," Coombs said.
Complicating Manning's ethical quandary was a "very private struggle with his gender," Coombs said, referring to his client's exploration of a female alter ego named Breanna Elizabeth he used online.
Manning says he currently prefers to be identified as male.
But during closing arguments, military prosecutor Fein argued "Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker."
"He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it."
Manning's attorney David Cooombs, in closing arguments, described the former soldier as "young, naive, but good-intentioned."
Is PFC Manning somebody who is a traitor, who has no loyalty to this country, or the flag, and wanted to systematically harvest and download information as much information as possible for his true employer, WikiLeaks?
Is that what the evidence shows or is he a young, naive, good-intentioned soldier who had human life, in his humanist beliefs, center to his decision, whose sole focus was to maybe, I just can make a difference, maybe make a change? Which side of the version is the truth?