Kennedy described a department in crisis following the leak of hundreds of thousands of cables by Manning to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which provided them to a number of news organizations and posted them on its Web site.
Manning, 25, was found guilty last week of violations of the Espionage Act and other crimes for turning over secret diplomatic documents, battlefield reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, and reports on Guantanamo Bay detainees to WikiLeaks. He faces up to 136 years in prison when sentenced by Judge Denise Lind, an Army colonel.
After the first release of the cables in 2010, the State Department set up a number of internal task forces to review the released material, attempt to mitigate the damage and identify persons at risk, Kennedy said.
He said that for close to two months the department worked almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assess damage. But Kennedy said that as he was about to sign off on a final evaluation, a second tranche of documents was publicly released and the effort was scrapped. He said another effort at damage assessment would have taken too many resources.
Manning’s defense attorney David Coombs emphasized the relatively low secrecy classification of the material that the soldier accessed while serving as an intelligence analyst at a forward operating base in Iraq.
Coombs described five other classification categories for information, including one known as “Roger,” which Kennedy said he could not describe in open session.
Coombs argued that the released cables, while embarrassing to the United States, did not damage relations with other countries. And the lawyer quoted former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton and former defense secretary Robert Gates to make his point.
Clinton said the cables simply passed on information “for whatever it’s worth. And I think most leaders understand that.” At a Pentagon briefing, Gates said, “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”
Last week during the court-martial, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, who led a military task force assessing damage, contended that one Afghan national was killed following the disclosure of the battlefield reports. But Lind ruled that his assertion would not be admitted into the record because the individual’s name did not appear in military records.
The sentencing phase of the trial could last at least another week, and the defense is expected to call a number of witnesses who will testify to Manning’s state of mind and his stated goal of sparking a debate about U.S. wartime conduct by releasing the documents.