Bradley Manning trial: US government ordered to release WikiLeaks damage assessments
The US government has been ordered to release its assessments on how much damage WikiLeaks’ publication of secret files caused to US interests, after lawyers for Pfc Bradley Manning argued they were essential to his defence.
By Raf Sanchez, Fort Meade, Maryland – 24 Apr 2012
The 24-year-old soldier is accused of smuggling thousands of classified military and diplomatic files to the whistle-blowing website.
WikiLeaks began publishing the files last year, leaving the US government scrambling to figure out whether the leaks could harm American national security.
Task forces from across the government – including the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon – were formed to assess the damage and report back to the White House and other agencies.
Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over Pfc Manning’s court-martial, ruled on Tuesday that the task forces’ reports could be “materially relevant” to his case and ordered the government to hand them over to the court.
The assessments will be reviewed in a secret hearing by the judge but could then be included as evidence in the eventual trial stage. The State Department has already said it will fight to keep the documents secret and the CIA and Pentagon are expected follow suit.
Pfc. Manning faces charges over his alleged role in stealing more than half a million secret documents from a secure military network and passing them to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Among the most serious charges is one count of aiding the enemy, a crime that can lead to life imprisonment.
David Coombes, Pfc. Manning’s civilian defence lawyer, said prosecutors must prove that the leaks actually “caused harm” if they are to convict his client. While the government assessments remain classified, Mr Coombes cited media reports from last year where anonymous US authorities privately admitted that the WikiLeaks revelations had caused only “pockets” of short-term damage.
The reports directly contradicted the Obama administration’s official position that the leaks had caused “substantial” damage and endangered the lives of American informants around the world.
In a densely legalistic hearing at the sprawling Fort Meade military complex in Maryland, Pfc. Manning’s lawyers also demanded that government release video footage reportedly showing the soldier stripped naked and interrogated by Army authorities.
Following his arrest in Iraq in May 2010, Pfc. Manning spent eight months in solitary confinement at a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. Part of his defence strategy is to argue that this period represented “unlawful pretrial confinement” and his lawyers said the alleged incident from January 2011 supported their case.
Prosecutors insisted that there was no footage of the interrogation to hand over.
Mr Coombes is also trying to force the government to turn over documents from a grand jury convened in Virginia, reportedly to explore ways to prosecute Mr Assange under American espionage laws.
Pfc Manning, who wore a formal dress uniform during the hearing, dismissed two of the military lawyers assigned to his defence but offered no explanation why.
Major Matthew Kemkes and Captain Paul Bouchard had appeared at his side at a number of earlier hearings but the soldier told the judge that he wished to replace them Captain Joshua Toomes, another military attorney.
Colonel Lind is expected to rule on Wednesday on a defence motion to have all 22 charges against Pfc. Manning dismissed on the grounds that the government had failed to hand over relevant evidence to the case.
The defendant has not yet entered a plea to the charges.