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Prosecutor says Manning defied nation's trust

An Army intelligence analyst defied the nation's trust by indiscriminately pulling more than 700,000 documents from a computer network and giving reams of national secrets to WikiLeaks, a military prosecutor argues.
Bradley Manning is escorted by military police from the courthouse at Fort Meade in Maryland
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted by military police from the courthouse after the sixth day of his Article 32 hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, on Wednesday, Dec. 21.© Benjamin Myers / Reuters / REUTERS
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Army intelligence analyst defied the nation's trust by indiscriminately pulling more than 700,000 documents from a supposedly secure computer network and giving reams of national secrets to WikiLeaks, a military prosecutor argued Thursday at the close of a hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning.

A defense attorney said the Army had failed the troubled young soldier and is now piling on charges in an attempt to strong-arm him into pleading guilty.

The summations at Fort Meade ended a preliminary hearing to determine whether Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. He faces life in prison.

Prosecutors said Manning signed seven agreements to protect government secrets. They say he then made sure those secrets were published online for America's enemies to see.

"Pfc. Manning gave enemies of the United States unfettered access to these government documents," Capt. Ashen Fein said, pounding the podium.

The defense team says Manning was nearly paralyzed by internal struggles over his belief that he was a woman trapped in a man's body. They say his chain of command failed to suspend his access to classified data despite clear signs of emotional distress, including his statement to a supervisor that he had multiple personalities.

Civilian defense attorney David Coombs called the intelligence division of Manning's battalion a "lawless unit" for allowing soldiers to load personal music CDs onto their workplace computers and play music, movies and video games stored on a network meant for classified data.

He said the government needs "a reality check" for bringing such serious charges against Manning.

And he challenged the government's original decision to classify as "secret" the material WikiLeaks published.

"Why are we here when all this information is out in public?" asked Coombs, who argued that the release of the material had caused no harm.

"If anything, it's helped," he said.

Prosecutors noted that although the material has been published, the military still considers it classified.

Manning's supporters say the information published by WikiLeaks exposed war crimes and triggered the wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East.

It still could be weeks before Manning learns whether he will be court-martialed.

The presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, will have until Jan. 16 to recommend whether the 24-year-old Crescent, Okla., native should stand trial.

Military officials say Almanza's timeline could be extended, and there is no deadline for a final decision by Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington.

The standard of proof is whether reasonable grounds exist to believe Manning committed the alleged offenses.

It's been nearly 19 months since Manning was charged with giving WikiLeaks a trove of classified data, including hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic cables and raw battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. There was also video of a laughing U.S. helicopter crew gunning down 11 men, including a Reuters cameraman and his driver, in a clip WikiLeaks dubbed "Collateral Murder."

The reason Manning allegedly gave for the disclosures, in online chats with a confidant who turned him in: "I want people to see the truth."

His lawyers built a three-pronged defense: Manning was a troubled man who shouldn't have had access to classified material, let alone served in Iraq; security at his workplace was weak; and the published material did little or no harm to national security.

The prosecution's three main witnesses were, like Manning, computer experts.

Adrian Lamo, a onetime convicted hacker, testified he gave investigators records of his May 2010 online chats with a correspondent using the screen name "bradass87" who bragged about engineering "possibly the largest data spillage in American history" from his Army post in Baghdad.

Two computer forensic examiners said they found evidence on Manning's workplace and personal computers that he had downloaded battlefield reports from the military's supposedly secure network and emailed them to WikiLeaks.

The defense called just two witnesses — a sergeant who witnessed one of Manning's fits of rage and a captain who found it odd that intelligence analysts were allowed to load personal music CDs into computers linked to the classified data network. Manning allegedly downloaded the diplomatic cables onto a rewritable CD labeled "Lady Gaga," while lip-synching her song "Telephone."

Throughout the proceedings, Manning remained outwardly calm while witnesses talked about his emotional problems, his difficulties as a gay soldier during the military's "don't ask, don't tell" era, and his violent outbursts while serving in the United States and then in Iraq from late 2009 to mid-2010.