Bradley Manning defense rests in WikiLeaks case

Posted By Kristen Butler,  |  Updated July 11, 2013 at 3:13 PM
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The defense in the court-martial of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning rested its case Wednesday after just three days and ten witnesses.

The prosecution, by contrast, took five weeks to present its case against Private Manning, as they pursued charges including "aiding the enemy," which could carry the death penalty, though the prosecution is seeking "only" a life sentence in military custody with no parole.

But defense lawyer David Coombs revealed in court that according to testimony that has not yet been made public, it was the government's own reaction to WikiLeaks that drew the attention of al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden, who was later discovered to have asked to see the WikiLeaks files.

"Rhetoric is what drives the enemy to actually go look at WikiLeaks, not the actual publication of the information," Coombs said, in an argument against the government's "aiding the enemy" charge.

The defense closed with testimony from Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler, who said that WikiLeaks was performing a journalistic function at the time Manning gave them archives of classified documents.

Benkler, who wrote a widely cited academic paper about WikiLeaks and watchdog journalism on the Internet, testified that at the time of Manning's leaks the organization had established itself as a reputable journalistic organ.

Although WikiLeaks was initially regarded with skepticism, it published accurate information without having to retract anything, and by the time Manning leaked the documents in 2010, WikiLeaks had a reputation as a legitimate organization.

U.S. officials and lawmakers immediately began denouncing WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange after it published video of a Baghdad airstrike showing an American helicopter firing on Reuters journalists, obtained through Manning.

The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel then went on to publish excerpts from the Afghan War logs, Iraq War logs, diplomatic cables and Guantanamo Bay files which had been sent to WikiLeaks by Manning.

Prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow asked Benkler whether he agreed that the release of documents in bulk was not journalism, and Benkler disagreed. He said that sometimes a database can hold important information even when no single document is newsworthy on its own.

He cited an analysis of the Iraq War logs that showed civilian casualties had been far higher than official estimates.

Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges, and thus faces a possible 20 year imprisonment. Reading for over an hour from a 35-page statement at the time, he said he leaked the cables "to show the true cost of war," and maintains that he is a whistleblower who acted in the public interest.

Manning has declined to testify in his defense. The judge, Col. Denise Lind noted that the defense has the option to put forward a rebuttal case before closing arguments, but it is unclear if they will do so. The trial will resume next week.

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