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Trial Begins for Bradley Manning Over Leaked Classified Documents

June 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The court martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning opened in Fort Meade, Md. Three years ago Manning was arrested for allegedly leaking 700,000 U.S. government documents to the website WikiLeaks. Ray Suarez takes a closer look at the trial with Arun Rath, who has been covering the story for FRONTLINE.

JEFFREY BROWN: Next, to a milestone in the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Ray Suarez has more.

RAY SUAREZ: Three years after his arrest in Iraq, the court-martial for Pfc. Bradley Manning began today at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Arun Rath has been covering the Manning case for our PBS partner FRONTLINE.

Arun, Bradley Manning has already pleaded guilty to several charges. What remains to be fought out in court?

ARUN RATH, FRONTLINE: Well, what he pleaded guilty to were substantially lesser charges. The most serious charges, which include aiding the enemy, which is the most serious, that would possibly involve a life imprisonment sentence, those still have to be argued through in great detail.

RAY SUAREZ: So, we got to see the broad outlines of the prosecution’s case today. How are they going to go after Bradley Manning?

ARUN RATH: Well, the prosecution in their opening statement went through a very detailed, methodical, point-by-point timeline of when Bradley Manning arrived in Iraq, when he leaked, what he lead, decided to leak it.

They’re going to go through point by point and show that he leaked these things and that he knew that these things could aid the enemy.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, we’re in a situation where we have got a defendant who has already admitted committing the core crime. So, when his defense team gave their opening argument and the outlines of their defense, what are they going to say on Bradley Manning’s behalf when they put his case on?

ARUN RATH: That’s right, because essentially they’re not arguing that Bradley Manning leaked confidential information.

They’re saying that — the defense said in his opening argument that Bradley Manning is — was young, naive, but good-intentioned, the good intentions meaning that he was essentially thinking of himself as a whistle-blower. He saw things in Iraq, what he considered a disregard for Iraqi life in particular, that he found so objectionable, and he thought that there wasn’t being anything done about it at the time, so that what he thought he was doing was being a whistle-blower, doing the right thing, the moral thing, even if, according to the letter of the law, it wasn’t legal.

RAY SUAREZ: So, are both the defense and the prosecution going to argue a lot about both Bradley Manning’s motive in turning over the documents to WikiLeaks, but also who he thought would receive it in the end, who would see what he was turning over?

ARUN RATH: Well, right.

Well, that’s the key part of the government’s argument with aiding the enemy, the idea that by releasing this information to WikiLeaks Bradley Manning knew that al-Qaida, our enemies, were reading WikiLeaks and therefore would get that information.

The defense is saying, no, he specifically was selective with the information he released. He wasn’t releasing stuff that could damage the United States, but stuff that he wanted to do that would create a dialogue with the American public. He was thinking about American people, not about the enemy.

RAY SUAREZ: And when you say thinking about American people, what does the defense team say that ultimately Bradley Manning had in mind as a goal in releasing these otherwise secret documents?

ARUN RATH: He wanted to generate a debate in America.

He thought that if Americans knew what was going on, what was in these detailed day-to-day logs, what was going on in Iraq, the number of civilians who were being killed, that sort of thing, that it would generate a debate in America about — about the wars, how they’re being waged. His defense attorney said that he thought he was maybe naive in thinking that.

RAY SUAREZ: Today, the first wit witnesses took to the stand. Who were they and what did they have to say?

ARUN RATH: These were two witnesses. The first two were investigative officers who were there on the scene in Baghdad — I’m sorry — there on the scene in Iraq at Forward Operating Base Hammer, where Pvt. Manning was stationed.

They were there. They did the initial crime scene investigations. They interviewed some of the people that were there and investigated around the scenes, collected some of the digital evidence. The other witness was Bradley Manning’s roommate there at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, who was there, stayed with him in the same room, but really didn’t know Manning at all.

They pretty much led separate existences. We didn’t really get much of an insight into Bradley Manning, except for the fact that he pretty much kept to his own, kept to himself.

RAY SUAREZ: And these are witnesses for the prosecution so far? It’s they who will put on their case first?


The prosecution is laying out their case first. And they have over 100 witnesses they’re scheduled to call. Whether or not they will all actually be called in the end will be seen. But they have a pretty extensive witness list to lay out in detail what exactly Bradley Manning did wrong and why it was so wrong.

RAY SUAREZ: This is expected — you mentioned 100 witnesses for the prosecution. This is expected to be a fairly long trial, isn’t it?

ARUN RATH: It’s scheduled to go through Aug. 23rd, which is quite a long amount of time. And they’re saying the reason for this is it’s such a massive amount of data that was leaked and so many details to go through and/or to prove whether or not Bradley Manning caused damage, was aiding the enemy, and all these questions which are outstanding.

RAY SUAREZ: Arun Rath from PBS’ FRONTLINE, thanks for joining us.

ARUN RATH: Thanks, Ray.