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Prosecutors, Defense Offer Different Portraits of Bradley Manning in Closing

July 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Bradley Manning's defense lawyer called him a whistleblower while the prosecution says he's a traitor. Now it's up to a judge to decide the fate of the soldier accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. Charlie Savage of The New York Times was in the court room and shares what he saw with Jeffrey Brown.
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JEFFREY BROWN: The defense got its final say today, for the soldier who made a massive disclosure of secret documents.Now the so-called WikiLeaks case goes to a military judge.

As Army Private 1st Class Bradley Manning arrived at Fort Meade, Md., this morning, a handful of supporters stood by, some wearing T-shirts that said “Truth.”Inside, his attorney argued that Manning wanted the world to know the truth of U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.The 25-year-old intelligence analyst stands accused of the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, releasing more than 700,000 classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq, and charged with 21 offenses.Last February, he pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges, including misuse of classified information.The court-martial on the remaining offenses began June 3.A conviction of the most serious, aiding the enemy, could send him to prison for life.

In their closing arguments yesterday, prosecutors argued that Manning was no naive soldier, but a traitor.The defense insisted today he should be seen as a whistle-blower.

Charlie Savage of The New York Times was in the courtroom for the past two days and joins us now.

Charlie, welcome back.

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CHARLIE SAVAGE, The New York Times:Hey, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: So dueling portraits of Bradley Manning are being put forth.Tell us about the Manning you heard presented by the defense today.

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Sure.

Well, so, as your viewers probably remember, Bradley Manning has already basically confessed to being WikiLeaks’ source, and so most of the facts in this case are not in dispute.He is the guy who sent them all those documents about topics that vaulted them into world fame in 2010.

The question is, how do we understand that?Was he a reckless anarchist and a traitor, as the prosecution said yesterday?And today in its closing arguments, the defense had a very different portrait to show of a young man who they said was naive perhaps, but well-intentioned, a whistle-blower, someone who was concerned about all people and wanted to select document sets that would help spread debate around the world, lead to change for the better.

JEFFREY BROWN: They also, I gather, were arguing that he was selective in what he put out, right?He could have done a lot more.

CHARLIE SAVAGE: That’s right.

This is another way in which the basic facts that he released, these 700,000 documents, is not really in dispute, and the question is, how do we understand that?So the prosecution says this is massive, 700,000 documents.He couldn’t possibly have even known what he was sending to WikiLeaks.

Today, we hear from the defense, but this is a guy who had access to millions, probably tens of millions of records, because he had unfettered access to the secret SIPRNet computer system as an all-source intelligence only itself.

And so if he was really just trying to willy-nilly release everything for the fun of spreading anarchy, as the prosecution says, he would have released far more than 700,000.He would have released millions, and the fact that he didn’t, the fact that he stayed away from databases like reports of confidential sources and so forth shows that he was, the defense says, in fact selective.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the prosecution’s version of this obviously quite different, but what were they pointing to, what kind of evidence were they pointing to, to say that, yes, in fact, a lot of national security had been damaged? 

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Well, for example, one of the two largest document sets are these SigActs, significant activity reports from the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

These are sort of front-line incident reports.This happened, this IED blew up, this small-scale thing happened, and you write up a report if you’re in that unit and you file that, and there’s hundreds of thousands of these things that present sort of a granular account of what happened in those two wars.And his release of those things brought — shed new light on the true level of — or at least higher levels than official estimates of civilian casualties and so forth.

So he has said and his defense lawyers have said this is a very mild thing to release, because these are historical documents.After a few days, the incident is over, the troops have left, there’s nothing in these that’s going to cause harm.

And the prosecution says, no, these things show our tactics, our protocols, how we handle responses to roadside bombings and so forth, and once the enemy can have this massive data set, they can mine that data to figure out what our procedures are and use those against us.

So, that’s another sense in which two different spins on the very same set of facts.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about WikiLeaks itself?Because, from the very beginning, of course, how one looks at WikiLeaks has played a big role, whether it’s a news organization or what.So how much has that played into the final arguments here?

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Well, it plays a lot into it, because the most controversial charge facing Bradley Manning is that by giving information to WikiLeaks for publication on the Internet, he indirectly aided the enemy, because when you publish information online, the whole world can see it, and the whole world includes enemies like al-Qaida.

And that has a lot of implications for investigative journalism, because news organizations, traditional news organizations like mine, The New York Times, also take information and publish it on the Internet.And so if giving information to another entity for publication online is aiding the enemy, it’s not clear what the line is between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.

And so the prosecution was trying to draw that line as well.If he’d given the information to The New York Times or The Guardian or Der Spiegel directly, The Washington Post, that would have a crime, but that’s not this.WikiLeaks was in the business of just wholesale bulk posting of documents.That’s not journalism.So it’s something different, so don’t worry, Judge, about the notion that you — this unprecedented aiding the enemy charge may somehow cripple investigative journalism going forward if this establishes a precedent.

And the defense didn’t want that separation in the judge’s mind at all.It emphasized greatly, no, WikiLeaks is the same as The New York Times for legal purposes in this matter.It’s the same as The Guardian, it’s the same as Der Spiegel.They were engaged in bringing information to light, publishing it for the world to see.The fact that some enemies are also in the world and have Internet connections cannot be enough, the defense says, for the leaker to be guilty of aiding the enemy, because if it is, we’re in a whole new world in terms of what investigative journalism can do with its sourcing.

JEFFREY BROWN: And just briefly, Charlie, that aiding the enemy charge, the judge decided to keep that on the table.What happens next?Has she made clear when she’s going to decide this and, in addition to that, what other charges is — what’s the most important charges?

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Well, as I just mentioned, I think that aiding the enemy charge is the most important one.That is the one that could set a precedent that changes a lot of things going forward in this country.

Beyond that, the Espionage Act charge and several of those are the most severe ones that he’s facing.He also has some theft charges and some other things that are at a more significant level than what he has offered or already pled guilty to sort of unilaterally before this trial began.

The judge has not said when she will rule.I imagine, having observed her behavior, that she’s going to write a lengthy statement of facts and law and findings that she will read aloud when she does deliver the verdict, and that may take her some time, if she hadn’t already been working on it.So we will find out.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Charlie Savage of The New York Times, thanks so much.

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Thank you.