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Contrasting portraits of Bradley Manning as court-martial opens

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted into a courthouse at Fort Meade, Md., for a pretrial hearing in May.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted into a courthouse at Fort Meade, Md., for a pretrial hearing in May.Patrick Semansky / AP

Pfc. Bradley Manning was young and naïve but "hoping to make the world a better place" when he leaked military secrets, his lawyer said Monday on the first day of his court-martial.

Manning selected information that he believed the public should see but that could not be used against the United States, said the lawyer, David Coombs.

“He was 22 years old,” Coombs said. “He was young. A little naïve, but good-intentioned in that he was selecting information that he thought would make a difference.”

It was one of two portraits offered as a judge heard opening statements in the trial of Manning, charged with violating the Espionage Act and helping the enemy when he carried out the largest leak of classified information in American history.

Earlier in the day, a military prosecutor said that Manning craved notoriety and put his fellow soldiers at risk when he leaked the information — some of which, he said, was later found during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The prosecutor, Army Capt. Joe Morrow, said his side would prove that Manning knew what he was doing when he put the information “in the hands of the enemy.” He described the case as what happens when “arrogance meets access to sensitive information.”

Morrow, the prosecutor, began his presentation to the military judge by quoting something he said Manning wrote in a chat room in May 2010: “If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?”

Morrow displayed a log from Manning’s personal computer showing that he downloaded a database with the personal information of every service member in Iraq — more than 74,000 men and women in all.

The prosecutor said that by leaking the information, Manning was providing foreign intelligence services with a phone book.

Manning, 25, has said that he sent the information, which included diplomatic cables and battlefield reports, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks because he was disillusioned by a U.S. foreign policy bent on “killing and capturing people.”

He has pleaded guilty to 10 charges that carry up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors are pushing ahead with more serious counts, including larceny, aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act. Those charges could land Manning in jail for life.

Manning has been jailed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., since April 2011 and was at the military prison in Quantico, Va., for nine months before that.

Coombs, the defense lawyer, spoke of a formative event in Iraq on Christmas Eve 2009, when an explosive projectile narrowly missed an American convoy but struck a car with an Iraqi family inside.

Manning could not forget about the civilians hurt and killed in the attack and “started to struggle,” Coombs said. He said Manning then decided he needed to do something to make a difference in the world.

Coombs said that Manning arrived in Iraq when he was “22 years young” and hoping to make Iraq a safer place.

“He is not the typical soldier,” the lawyer said. He said that Manning deployed to Iraq with custom dog tags that said “humanist” on the back.