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Fri Apr 18 20:20:23 SAST 2014

Closing arguments due in Wikileaks suspect Manning's trial

Sapa | 22 December, 2011 11:44
Bradley Manning is escorted by military police from the courthouse at Fort Meade in Maryland
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning (C) is escorted by military police from the courthouse after the sixth day of his Article 32 hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Image by: BENJAMIN MYERS / REUTERS

Closing arguments are to be held Thursday to decide whether a US soldier accused of a colossal intelligence breach should face a court-martial that could send him to prison for life.

During six days of testimony, prosecutors portrayed US Army Private Bradley Manning as a skilled intelligence analyst who betrayed his trust by funneling a trove of classified US documents to secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.

The defense sought meanwhile to depict the 24-year-old from Oklahoma as an emotionally troubled soldier working in a unit with lax oversight and superiors who failed to revoke his security clearance despite a series of incidents.

Dressed in a green camouflage uniform of the 10th Mountain Division, Manning has largely ignored the members of the public and media attending the hearing, focusing instead on the witnesses, whispering to his lawyers and taking notes.

Following the closing arguments, which are to begin at 9:00 am (1400 GMT), Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, the presiding officer, is expected to take several weeks before recommending whether Manning should face a court-martial.

Manning is accused of scooping up US military reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, State Department cables, Guantanamo detainee assessments and videos of US air strikes and passing the material, much of which was stamped classified, on to WikiLeaks.

The US government has said the biggest leak of classified US material since Daniel Ellsberg turned the Pentagon Papers over to The New York Times in 1971 endangered informants and sources and damaged US national security and foreign relations.

Manning could face life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges he is facing. Aiding the enemy is a capital offense but the military has declined to seek the death penalty.

The government rested its case after calling 20 witnesses including soldiers who served alongside Manning in Iraq between November 2009 and his arrest in May 2010, digital forensics experts and the man who reported him to the authorities.

US Army computer experts testified that contact information for Julian Assange, online chats with the WikiLeaks founder, and a trail of other incriminating digital footprints was found on computers used by Manning.

The experts said an SD memory card recovered from Manning's aunt's house contained 91,000 US military reports from Afghanistan and another 400,000 from Iraq while 100,000 State Department cables were found on one of his computers.

Prosecutors repeatedly asked fellow members of Manning's unit about the training they had received in the handling of classified information.

"Whose responsibility is it to safeguard classified information?" Captain Angel Overgaard asked Sergeant Daniel Padgett.

"Every soldier," Padgett replied.

Padgett was one of several soldiers who described behavioural incidents involving Manning, including a time in Iraq in December 2009 where he got "irate," overturned a table and had to be restrained by other soldiers.

Sergeant Chad Madaras, who shared Manning's computer work station in Iraq, said he did not appear to have any friends in the unit.

Ex-army specialist Jihrleah Showman said she had recommended that Manning receive behavioral health treatment, that his access to classified information be revoked and that he not be deployed to Iraq but nothing was done.

Defense attorneys suggested that Manning, who is gay, had difficulty serving in a US military that was operating under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy towards homosexuals which has since been repealed.

Some of the most dramatic testimony of the hearing came from Adrian Lamo, the former computer hacker who reported the WikiLeaks suspect to the US authorities after Manning reached out to him by email and instant message.

In the online conversations, Manning told Lamo "I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public."

Such statements have made Manning a hero to anti-war activists, and Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, was among supporters who have attended the hearing at Fort Meade. Activists have held vigils and rallies outside of Fort Meade slamming the US treatment of Manning and urging his release.

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Fri Apr 18 20:20:23 SAST 2014 ::