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Bradley Manning Court-Martial Begins In WikiLeaks Case

The trial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, seen here last month, began Monday with prosecutors saying he delivered thousands of classified documents to America's enemies when he provided data to WikiLeaks.
Patrick Semansky

Starkly different views of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning were presented Monday, the first day of his court-martial on charges that he aided the enemy when he gave a large batch of classified data to WikiLeaks that was then posted online.

In February, Manning admitted to giving documents that included State Department cables to WikiLeaks because, he said, "I believed that these cables would not damage the United States. However, I believed these cables would be embarrassing."

A military prosecutor says that Manning "harvested hundreds of thousands of documents" that aided America's enemies after they reached the Internet, while his defense attorney says the private was young and "naive, but good-intentioned" in his actions.

The trial of Manning, 25, begins more than three years after the former military intelligence analyst was arrested in Iraq for facilitating the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history. The files included diplomatic cables and military reports, which he then saved onto CDs.

A military judge accepted 10 guilty pleas from Manning at a pretrial hearing in February, as he admitted to more minor offenses in an effort to reduce the number of serious charges against him. But he still faces an accusation of aiding the enemy, specifically al-Qaida. Possible penalties for that charge include life in prison.

During opening statements of the trial being held at Fort Meade, Md., military prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said, "This is a case of about what happens when arrogance meets access to sensitive information," according to the AP.

Prosecutors said "they will present evidence that former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden asked for and received information WikiLeaks published," the AP reports.

After Morrow's presentation, Manning defense attorney David Coombs said his client tried to find documents and records that, if released, would make the world a better place.

"He was young," Coombs said of Manning, reports NBC News. "A little naive, but good-intentioned in that he was selecting information that he thought would make a difference."

The first testimony in the case came from military investigators who described arresting Manning and inspecting his workstation and living space in Iraq, a task that found them short of brown paper evidence bags, The Washington Post reports.

Because of the harsh treatment he received before his trial, a military judge ruled that Manning should be given a credit of 112 days toward any punishment he ultimately receives.

"Manning chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge instead of a jury," as the AP reports. "It is expected to run all summer."

Because the requests for media credentials at the Manning trial (350) far exceeded the number granted (70), NPR and other media organizations have joined the Freedom of the Press Foundation in sending a letter to the court requesting the presence of a privately paid stenographer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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