WikiLeaks source gave secrets to bin Laden himself, court told

US army private Bradley Manning’s trial for leaking classified documents begins

Private Bradley Manning put military secrets into the hands of Osama bin Laden himself, US prosecutors claimed, as the army intelligence analyst went on trial for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

At his court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, Pte Manning's lawyers argued he was a "young, naive but good-intentioned" soldier whose struggle to fit in as a gay man in the military made him feel he "needed to do something to make a difference in this world".

Pte Manning (25), has already admitted turning over the material to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, pleading guilty earlier this year to charges that could bring him 20 years behind bars.

The military pressed ahead with a court-martial on more serious charges, including aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.


Prosecutors said they would present evidence that bin Laden requested and obtained from another al-Qaida member Afghanistan battlefield reports and US State Department cables published by WikiLeaks.

"This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information on to the internet into the hands of the enemy," prosecutor Captain Joe Morrow said.

He said the case was “about what happens when arrogance meets access to sensitive information”.

Abuse complaints

The material WikiLeaks began publishing in 2010 documented complaints of abuses against Iraqi detainees, a US tally of civilian deaths in Iraq, and weak US support for the government of Tunisia - a disclosure that Manning's supporters said helped trigger the Middle Eastern pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring.

The Obama administration has said the release of the material threatened to expose valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained US relations with other governments.

Pte Manning’s supporters have hailed him as a whistleblowing hero and political prisoner, but others say he is a traitor who endangered lives and national security.

Wearing his dress blue uniform, the slightly-built Pte Manning peered through his small glasses at a slide show of the prosecutor’s hour-long opening statement, watching on a laptop computer at the defence table.

Later, almost motionless, the soldier, from Crescent, Oklahoma, sat forward in his chair, looking toward his defence lawyer David Coombs, throughout his 25-minute opening statement.

Mr Coombs said Manning struggled to do the right thing as “a humanist”, a word engraved on his custom-made dog tags.

Selective leaks

As an analyst in Baghdad, Pte Manning had access to hundreds of millions of documents but selectively leaked material, Mr Coombs said. He mentioned an unclassified video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter attack that mistakenly killed civilians including a Reuters photographer.

“He believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled,” Mr Coombs said.

Mr Coombs did not address whether bin Laden ever saw any of the material. The soldier has said he did not believe the information would harm the US.

Mr Coombs said Manning struggled privately with gender identity early in his tour of duty, when gays could not serve openly in the military.

“His struggles led him to feel that he needed to do something to make a difference in this world,” Mr Coombs said. “He needed to do something to help improve what he was seeing.”

Later, the court also heard from two army investigators and Pte Manning’s roommate in Iraq, who said the soldier was online whenever he was in their quarters.

Pte Manning chose to have his court-martial heard by a judge instead of a jury. It is expected to run all summer.

Much of the evidence is classified, which means large portions of the trial are likely to be closed to reporters and the public.

US authorities are looking into whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can also be prosecuted. He has sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crimes claims.

In February, Pte Manning took the stand and read from a 35-page statement in which he said he leaked the material to expose the American military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The case is the most high-profile prosecution for the Obama administration, which has been criticised for its crackdown on leakers. The six cases brought since the president took office are more than in all other presidencies combined.

Voluminous release

The WikiLeaks case is by far the most voluminous release of classified material in US history, and certainly the most sensational since the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defence Department history of US involvement in Vietnam.

The 7,000 pages of the Pentagon Papers showed the US government repeatedly misled the public about the Vietnam War. Their leaking to The New York Times set off an epic clash between the Nixon administration and the press and led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the First Amendment.

Some 20 Manning supporters were in the courtroom, including Princeton University professor and civil rights activist Cornel West and Medea Benjamin, a member of protest group Code Pink.

“I think it’s a show trial,” Ms Benjamin said. She and others complained about the small courtroom, saying the government was trying to make it look as if Pte Manning had less support than he really had.