When a military court opens one of the biggest national security trials in years late next week — that of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning — the defense would like some very big names to testify: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The names of the witnesses being sought are redacted from the document, but it’s clear from the unredacted text that Obama and Clinton are among those whose presence has been requested.
One section calls for testimony from an individual who “responded to questions regarding PFC Manning’s alleged actions by concluding that ‘We’re a nation of laws. We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. [Manning] broke the law.’ ”
Obama made that remark at a fundraiser in April, and Coombs contends that the comments were improper given his role as commander in chief. A “superior officer in the chain of command is prohibited from saying or doing anything that could influence any decision by a subordinate in how to handle a military justice matter,” Coombs said in a court filing.
The defense’s request, first reported by Politico, also indicates that Coombs wants to question Obama on his stated beliefs on transparency in government, government overclassification, as well as whether the alleged leak of classified data resulted in the disclosure of issues that were not already part of the “public debate on Afghanistan.”
Clinton is apparently being called as a witness to testify that any fallout from the leak of classified materials involved in the WikiLeaks case has been minimal.
The secretary of state, Coombs says, “will testify that she has raised the issue of the disclosure of diplomatic cables with foreign leaders ‘in order to assure our colleagues that it will not in any way interfere with American diplomacy or our commitment to continuing important work that is ongoing.’ ”
She will “testify that although the leaks were embarrassing for the administration ... she concurs with ... opinion that they did not represent significant consequences to foreign policy.”
The defense’s request for Obama and Clinton to testify fits with the defense’s contention, as outlined in a previous court filing, that information allegedly leaked by Manning did not harm national security.
Coombs is seeking “damage assessments” by the Pentagon and State Department that he says conclude the information allegedly leaked represented “low-level opinions” or was “already commonly known due to previous public disclosures.”
The Army has scheduled a pretrial hearing for Manning for Dec. 16 at Fort Meade.
The so-called Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, where a military judge will determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a court-martial.
Manning faces more than two dozen charges related to his alleged leaking of classified material. He faces life in prison if convicted.