Army Pfc. Bradley Manning arrives at court at Ft. Meade, Md., for closing… (Cliff Owen / Associated…)
FT. MEADE, Md. — Young, naive and well-intentioned, wanting to save lives in a combat zone, feeling responsible for U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens and hoping they all make it home safely — that is the true Bradley Manning, his lawyer asserted Friday as deliberations began on the fate of the 25-year-old private.
Army Col. Denise Lind, the judge who is hearing the case without a jury at Manning's request, must decide whether Manning is guilty of espionage and aiding the enemy in providing more than 700,000 confidential records, videos and other material to WikiLeaks. A conviction could send him to prison for life.
David Coombs, a civilian attorney and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, sharply countered comments from the chief military prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, who said Thursday that Manning was a traitor who was star-struck with WikiLeaks and wanted to glom onto its global franchise exposing government secrets.
But no, Coombs asserted, "he's not seeking attention. He's saying he's willing to accept the price for what he's doing. But he's not seeking attention."
Coombs displayed in large letters copies of Manning's personal emails, some after his 2009 deployment to Iraq as a classified intelligence analyst, others from around the time of his arrest in early 2010 for the largest breach of U.S. secrets in history.
"I'm more concerned about making sure that everyone, soldiers, Marines, contractors, even the local nationals, get home to their families," he emailed.
He later emailed: "I place value on people first," and "One of the bad parts of the job, [is] having to think about bad stuff."
In yet another email, Manning described to a fellow Internet chatter his angst over whether to start disclosing classified data. "What would you do?" he asked, if you knew explosive information was stored away in a "dark room in Washington" — information that, if exposed, would reveal the inside story of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the inner workings of the State Department and how terrorism suspects were treated in custody at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"That is a whistle-blower. That is somebody who wants to inform the American public," Coombs told the judge.
Coombs played a video clip of a now notorious scene of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing indiscriminately at a group of civilians, killing and wounding journalists, children and others. "Look at this from the eyes of a young man who cares about young life," Coombs told the judge.
Then he offered his own commentary as the black-and-white images played on inside the crowded courtroom: "The guy's down.... They're clearly shooting anyway.... We're going to shoot him some more.... They laugh about that.... Shooting some more. Just shooting. People on the ground."
He also encouraged the judge to look closer at a photograph Manning took of himself around the time he started cooperating with WikiLeaks. In it he is smiling broadly, which the prosecution said showed he was delighted in his coming celebrity.
But no, Coombs said again. Manning is wearing a bra. He is cross-dressing. "He's smiling because maybe he's able to be himself at that moment," Coombs said.
Coombs argued that Manning was not driven by any "general evil intent" to betray the U.S. or assist terrorists such as Al Qaeda. Rather, he said, Manning chose material he believed would educate the public, and gave that to WikiLeaks. "If he was acting wanton, he would have given them anything and everything," Coombs said. "We would be talking about anything he could download onto a CD."
But, he said, "Manning never discussed the enemy or wanting to get information to the enemy. He had a good motive. His motive was to spark reform — to spark change."
He added, "Giving something to a legitimate news organization is how we hold our government accountable."
When Coombs finished, some Manning supporters in the audience applauded. The judge responded angrily, "All right, that's enough. This is a court of law."
Earlier Friday, the judge barred Clark Stoeckley, who had credentials as a courtroom artist, for posting "threatening messages regarding some of the court-martial participants." For weeks Stoeckley had been on hand, with a Mohawk haircut, driving a WikiLeaks truck and wearing Manning's picture on his T-shirt.
In a rebuttal to Coombs, Fein said Manning routinely checked the WikiLeaks website's "most wanted" list of secret documents and then provided the site with that material. He said Manning "had to know" foreign terrorist groups also wanted that data.
Fein rejected any notion that Manning was a whistle-blower, noting he never took his concerns about government misconduct to his chain of command. Instead, he said, "This is a soldier who knew exactly what he was doing. It was against the rules and against his oath."