Defense suggests accused WikiLeaker was troubled soldier

Fort Meade hearing to be Manning's first appearance since 2010 arrest

  • A screengrab of a facebook page on November 29, 2010 set up in support of former US army intelligence agent. Bradley Manning.
A screengrab of a facebook page on November 29, 2010 set up in… (-, AFP/Getty Images )
December 10, 2011|By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

To his supporters, Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning is a hero, the whistle-blower who revealed U.S. war crimes and diplomatic double-dealing in the Pentagon records and State Department cables he is alleged to have sent to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks.

To the government, which is bringing criminal charges against the former intelligence analyst, he is a turncoat who endangered lives and damaged relations with allies by stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

But papers filed by his attorney suggest a third, more complex profile: a skilled computer technician who struggled with mental health, emotional and behavioral problems. A bright young man troubled by U.S. involvement in Iraq. A gay soldier isolated from his fellow troops in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Manning, 23, is scheduled to appear at Fort Meade this week for a preliminary hearing on charges including aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act.

He is suspected of leaking field reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables that included analyses and observations of foreign leaders and governments, and video footage of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed 12 in Baghdad.

The disclosure has been called one of the largest security breaches in U.S. history. Only Manning has been arrested.

The Article 32 hearing, scheduled to begin Friday, would be Manning's first public appearance since his arrest May 2010 at a U.S. base in Iraq. An independent investigating officer will hear testimony and arguments before recommending whether the case should be referred to a court-martial.

If convicted of the charges, Manning could face life in prison. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense, but Army prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty.

Also facing possible criminal prosecution by the United States is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published the material on the Internet. Assange is now in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden over allegations including rape.

The hearing will be a return to Maryland for Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before enlisting in the Army four years ago.

Manning's attorney has limited comments on the case to blog posts and court filings. Attorney David E. Coombs has cautioned against inferring defense strategy from the court papers, but the witness list and evidence motions he filed this month do suggest themes he might pursue during the hearing.

The 48 witnesses he requested include supervisors and fellow soldiers who, he says, would testify that Manning "should not have been a soldier," "seemed to act immature," "was not receptive to commands," and "was suffering from extreme emotional issues."

Coombs says one witness would describe finding Manning "curled in the fetal position in the Brigade conference room, rocking himself back and forth" and another would say his unit "failed to properly respond to the issues that PFC Manning was obviously struggling with."

Coombs has also requested testimony from a psychologist who evaluated Manning in December 2009. The psychologist determined that Manning was "potentially dangerous to himself and others" and recommended that his weapon be taken from him, according to Coombs.

The witness list also includes a supervisor who would testify that she recommended Manning not be deployed to Iraq "due to his emotional issues," the lawyer says.

Coombs says the supervisor would describe a debate among soldiers in the intelligence facility in which Manning worked about the actions of the Apache helicopter crew in the attack that killed 12 people, including a Reuters journalist and his driver.

The witnesses are described but not identified in the version of the list that was cleared for public release. One, Coombs says, would testify that Manning was upset by a report that "some Iraqis or possibly some Moroccans" had been arrested for printing documents critical of the Iraqi government.

According to Coombs, the witness would say that "if there was a moment in which PFC Manning may have snapped, this would have been it."

Another would testify that Manning confided to her that he was gay, feared losing his job and "felt like he had no one to talk to," Coombs says. Others would say Manning was "picked on" by fellow troops "because they assumed he was gay" and that "very few people would talk to" him.

The government has opposed the participation of most of the witnesses requested by Coombs, including mental health providers and key members of Manning's brigade.

In court filings, the government argues that testimony about his mental health and the decision to deploy him are irrelevant to the case "and will only serve to distract from the relevant issues." Coombs has asked the investigating officer to compel the participation of all witnesses.

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