In his closing argument Friday, a lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning portrayed the former Army intelligence analyst as a naive but brave and conscientious objector to the wartime conduct of the United States.
In a sometimes biting rebuttal to Thursday’s closing arguments by a military prosecutor, defense attorney David Coombs said Manning’s decision to leak classified U.S. documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks came only after he began pursuing intelligence reports and found evidence of wanton use of force and unjustified policies.
Manning was “willing to pay a price” for his actions, Coombs said. The young soldier sought to “spark a worldwide discussion” about what he came to see as U.S. abuses that were going unnoticed and unpunished, the attorney added.
To make his point, the defense played for Army judge Col. Denise Lind a video of a 2007 operation in Baghdad during which U.S. Apache helicopter pilots opened fire on a group of Iraqis that included two journalists and children.
“They are firing into a cloud of dust,” Coombs said, speaking slowly and deliberately as a grainy video depicting Iraqis scrambling after coming under fire and then falling on the ground played in the small Fort Meade courtroom. “They laugh about that. Shoot him some more. Just shooting people on the ground.”
A video of the incident, in which an employee of the Reuters news agency was killed, was among the files Manning is accused of having transmitted to WikiLeaks. The disclosure was striking because it depicted Army pilots speaking with callousness about the men they were shooting. After it was clear children had been among those wounded, one pilot mutters that the militants are to blame for bringing their kids to battle.
“Some people view this as their home, as their streets, not as the battlefield,” Coombs said.
The attorney urged Lind to view WikiLeaks as a legitimate news organization in an effort to argue that Manning, now 25, should not be convicted on the most serious charge, aiding the enemy. Coombs said Manning sought to disclose information to a wide audience and never took action to directly assist American enemies.
Coombs called the closing arguments of the prosecution a “diatribe,” referring perhaps to the number of times Maj. Ashden Fein reiterated the same anecdotes, quotes and examples during his lengthy allocution Thursday. He said that Fein used “child’s logic” to support contradictory narratives: one holding that Manning sought to cover his tracks and another suggesting he leaked documents in an effort to seek publicity.
Manning’s case has attracted a flurry of activists who oppose government secrecy and have attended his trial religiously, some as accredited journalists. Perhaps the most colorful among them, Clark Stoeckley, a sketch artist from New Jersey who drives a white truck emblazoned with the WikiLeaks logo, was kicked out of the courtroom Friday. Army officials said the judge dismissed him for “posting threatening messages regarding some of the court-martial participants.”
Stoeckley and his truck, an oddity on an Army base that also houses the National Security Agency, were escorted out early Friday afternoon. Stoeckley declined to comment.
Lind is expected to issue a verdict in coming days.