Bradley Manning Trial Begins With Charges He Put U.S. Soldiers At Risk

Starting today, the fate of Pfc. Bradley Manning is on trial in a courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland.


Bradley Manning’s court martial began today in a Courtroom at the Army base at Fort Meade, Maryland, and it opened with accusations by the prosecutions that Manning gave Wikileaks information that directly put American troops at risk:

FORT MEADE, Md. — A military prosecutor told a judge on Monday that Pfc. Bradley Manning was no ordinary leaker, as the court-martial opened for the former Army intelligence analyst who has confessed to being the source for vast archives of secret military and diplomatic documents made public by WikiLeaks.

“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of classified documents and dumped them onto the Internet, into the hands of the enemy – material he knew, based on his training, would put the lives of fellow soldiers at risk,” said the prosecutor, Capt. Joe Morrow of the Army.

But a defense lawyer for Private Manning told the judge that his client had been “young, naïve, but good-intentioned” and that he had, in fact, tried to make sure that the several hundred thousand documents he released would not cause harm.

“He was selective,” said the defense lawyer, David Coombs. “He had access to literally hundreds of millions of documents as an all-source analyst, and these were the documents that he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place.”

The dueling portrayals underscored the oddity at the heart of the trial, which is expected to last as long as 12 weeks. There is no doubt that Private Manning did most of what he is accused is doing, and he has already pleaded guilty to 10 charges for that conduct, for which he could be sentenced to up to 20 years.

But his plea was not part of any deal with the government, and prosecutors are moving forward with the trial because they hope to convict him of a far more serious set of charges, including violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy, that could result in a life sentence.

The government’s decision not to accept a plea deal with the young private and to instead pursue life imprisonment is just one piece of the aggressive tactics the Obama administration has used in its pursuit of leakers. The administration has brought six prosecutions in leak-related cases, compared with three under all previous presidents.


In his 58-minute opening presentation, Captain Morrow cited logs of searches and downloads from Private Manning’s classified computer, chat logs with a person he contended was the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, recovered files that had been deleted from Private Manning’s personal computer, and other such records to show the pace and scale of his downloads.

Captain Morrow’s portrayal dovetailed in many ways with Private Manning’s own confession in February, but the prosecutor appeared to be laying the groundwork to argue that Private Manning started downloading files earlier in his deployment than he had confessed to doing, and that he played a more active role in interacting with WikiLeaks.

In particular, Captain Morrow contended that some of Private Manning’s searches were undertaken in response to public requests by WikiLeaks for certain documents, like files related to detainee interrogations. He also said Private Manning had made suggestions about how to edit a video showing an Apache airstrike on a group of men in Baghdad in 2007 that he provided; two Reuters journalists died in the strike.

And the prosecutor repeatedly emphasized that Private Manning had been trained to be wary of posting material on the Internet, and had specifically uncovered an intelligence report warning that foreign adversaries could be gaining access to the information posted on WikiLeaks. Captain Morrow also said the government would show that Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, had requested and obtained an archive of wartime incident reports in Afghanistan that Private Manning gave to WikiLeaks.

But Mr. Coombs rejected the notion that Private Manning was working for WikiLeaks and tried to show that Private Manning’s mind-set and motivations were focused on helping society, not the enemy.

He said Private Manning was “not a typical soldier” when he deployed at 22, but rather a “humanist” who valued all life and who was also struggling with his own gender identity at the time, both of which Mr. Coombs said influenced his decision to try to change the world.

Perhaps the most alarming allegation that Captain Morrow made in his opening, though, is that, at the request of Julian Assange, Manning obtained and shared a list detailing the list of every American solider serving in Iraq at the time. Morrow went on to allege that this list, as well as other information that Manning had provided to Wikileaks, were found in the safe house in Abbottobad, Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed. Now, to be fair, this doesn’t constitute proof that Manning, or even Assange, was working with al Qaeda. However, once the documents were given by Manning to Wikileaks and Wikileaks made them available to the public in general, it would have been relatively easy or someone affiliated with al Qaedda to download them at their leisure.

This is what makes what Manning and Wikileaks so dangerous, and why I think its perfectly proper to pursue criminal charges against him. Contrary to the pronouncements of his supporters, it seems apparent from the evidence that we are aware of that Private Manning was not some noble whistleblower trying to make public evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the U.S. military during the War in Iraq. If that were the case, then he would have only leaked discrete pieces of information about specific acts. He didn’t do that, he stole gigabytes worth of information without much real regard for what he was passing along to a shadowy organization led by a man with an agenda that nobody has ever really been able to figure out. That isn’t the action of a whistleblower, it’s the action of a man who doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions.

It doesn’t really matter what Manning’s motives were. Some theories argue that he was angry with the way he was being treated in the Army, or that his actions were motivated in some way by the fact that he is gay and opposed the Army’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which was still in effect at the time. None of that matters, because it’s not a justification for what he did (and since he’s already plead guilty to many charges, there’s no denying that he did what he is accused of). Does he deserve the death penalty or life in prison? That’s a decision that will be left in the hands of the trier of fact in this case and the appeals courts that will no doubt be dealing with this case for many years to come. What is clear is that, contrary to the arguments of his supporters, Bradley Manning is no hero and deserves nobody’s respect for what he did.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Intelligence, Iraq War, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, National Security, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tran says:

    How can it be clear that Manning is no hero and deserves nobodies respect for what he does? Palestinian suicide bombers are celebrated as heroes by the Hamas and they are afforded a great deal of respect (I am not suggesting that Manning and the terrorists are in any way comparable). There is no objective standard to determine who is a hero and who is not, and I doubt your arguments will sway many people who support Bradley Manning.

    And does it make a difference that he gave the information to Wikileaks to spread around the world? What if he had just posted them online, free for all to access? But that would

    1. Lead to the US government to take those down, just as they tried censoring Wikileaks.

    2. Preclude the possibility to try to protect US soldiers. Wikileaks tried to talk with US authorities to get them to work together, so they (Wikileaks) can leave out sensitive information that would threaten lifes, but the government refused.

    Seems to me he was a responsible whistleblower and did everything in his power to protect people.

  2. Steve says:

    There is no objective standard to determine who is a hero and who is not

    This is liberal moral relativism at its best. I am not saying that there is not some gray area in the Manning case as to how much he should be punished (although I agree with Doug 100% that hs is in the wrong and we are only talk about a matter of degree), but suggesting that because some misguided idiots think that suicide bombings are noble means that there is no right and wrong is just scary.

    Let me tell you Tran, lest there be any confusion, suicide bombers who kill innoncent bystanders are NOT heroes. And that is an objective fact. If you fell differently, it is not a matter of opinion, it just makes you wrong. Likewise, when countries in the middle east stone women for adultry, this is objectively wrong and we need not respect the difference in our culture. That some people in those countries feel otherwise does not make it a gray area. They, like you Tran, are just plain wrong.