The military hearing of alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning began Friday at Fort Meade in Maryland and continued over the weekend. Manning has been detained for more than a year and a half and could face up to 23 counts of violating military code. The 24-year-old is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of classified U.S. documents in history. Army prosecutors have signaled they will not recommend the death penalty in the event of Manning’s conviction, but they could be overruled. The issues raised during the trial so far include the lax computer security at the military base in Iraq where Manning was stationed and Manning’s emotional stability and anxieties around his sexual orientation. "It’s important to say that all this [Manning’s sexuality and state of mind] area is being raised by Manning’s own defense lawyer at this hearing. It is the case that the defense is pushing. Now, we have to be careful at this stage, because this is not a trial, and we cannot say this is what the defense will do at a court-martial. They may be doing it for other reasons, that they want to get more evidence, they want to get disclosure out of the prosecution, which they will then use in a different way at the trial," says Ed Pilkington, a correspondent for The Guardian, who has been reporting from the pretrial hearings for the last three days. "All the evidence so far has been that the defense is likely to press a mitigating argument, that Manning was under extreme emotional stress at the time that the leaks happened, that there was an extraordinary — and the evidence that we’ve already heard from people who worked with Manning inside his intelligence unit, there was undoubtedly an almost astonishing lack of control over soldiers." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The military hearing to try the alleged U.S. Army whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning, has been underway since Friday in Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning could face up to 23 counts of violating military code. He has been held for more than a year and a half by the U.S. military. The 24-year-old is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of classified U.S. documents in history. Military prosecutors are aiming to show there’s sufficient evidence to bring Manning to trial at a general court-martial on 22 criminal charges. If convicted, Manning could face life in prison.
He has been detained since May of 2010. He was seen for the first time since then at the opening of the pretrial hearing Friday amidst tight security. He was initially held on a charge of leaking a classified video to WikiLeaks that showed a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters employees—a journalist and his driver.
On Sunday, day three of Manning’s pretrial hearing, two of the Army’s witnesses refused to testify on the grounds their testimony might incriminate them. A small number of seats in the military courtroom have been reserved for members of the public, and there are strict reporting restrictions that limit live coverage of the proceedings. According to reports, among the issues that have been raised during the trial so far are the lax computer security at the military base in Iraq where Manning was stationed and Manning’s emotional stability and anxieties around his sexual orientation.
To find out more about the hearing, we go to one of those who was there. Ed Pilkington is the U.S. correspondent for the The Guardian in Britain. He has attended Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearings for the last three days.
Ed, welcome to Democracy Now! First, describe what the hearing room is like, seeing Bradley Manning for the first time publicly, and what he is up against in this military hearing.
ED PILKINGTON: Well, it’s a small, sort of cream-colored, intimate, little space with about four banks of benches on either side. We in the press just had one. We were crammed in, 10 of us, all squashed up. Right in front of us were two benches of government observers. We tried to ask them who they were, but they wouldn’t tell us. It was all a little bit spooky. And on the left was the defense side. It was a bit like the bride and the groom’s side at a wedding.
On the left side was Julian Assange’s lawyer, who is attending the trial. But rather humiliatingly for them, and they’re very cross about it, they’re being relegated to the public benches and being withheld full access to the trial, which, they argue, is completely wrong, because Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, as we know, are all also being investigated by the Department of Justice in a criminal investigation, in which Bradley Manning is likely to be a main witness. So they say their case is intimately tied into the Bradley Manning hearing, and they should therefore be given full access.
Seeing Manning, after having reported on him for many, many months now, was an extraordinary thing. The one thing everyone says about him, and it’s very true, is how small he is. He’s got these sort of Joe 90 glasses on, which rather outsize him. He looks very tiny, outflanked by very large military lawyers who are defending him.
And at this stage, he’s facing a fairly low bar, and it’s the question, should he go to court-martial? I don’t think there’s much doubt, bearing in mind the evidence the government has started to produce at the court hearing of his computer forensic analysis, that a court-martial is likely to follow. And at that stage, the real evidence will be presented, and his defense will be unfolded in full.
AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly does he face? Life in prison? Is it possible he faces death?
ED PILKINGTON: Yeah, now, this is an important point. Technically, he is accused of aiding the enemy, and that does carry the death penalty. So, it is not impossible that a military judge at a final court-martial would overrule the prosecution and say this is a death penalty case. However, it’s considered by legal experts in military law highly unlikely, because the prosecution has made it clear, though, they’re not seeking the death penalty. So, in all likelihood, what is left is still an extraordinary possible maximum punishment, which is life in military custody with absolutely no chance of parole.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the issues outside of the forensics on his computer that were raised, going to his state of mind, raising the issue of sexual orientation.
ED PILKINGTON: Yes, now, this has been in the past a very controversial area, and supporters of Bradley Manning have accused anyone who raises it of trying to cast aspersions on Manning himself. It’s important to say that all this area is being raised by Manning’s own defense lawyer at this hearing. It is the case that the defense is pushing. Now, we have to be careful at this stage, because this is not a trial, and we cannot say this is what the defense will do at a court-martial. They may be doing it for other reasons, that they want to get more evidence, they want to get disclosure out of the prosecution, which they will then use in a different way at the trial. So we cannot assume this is the defense.
But certainly, all the evidence so far has been that the defense is likely to press a mitigating argument, that Manning was under extreme emotional stress at the time that the leaks happened, that there was an extraordinary—and the evidence that we’ve already heard from people who worked with Manning inside his intelligence unit, there was undoubtedly an almost astonishing lack of control over soldiers. There was a lack of care over Manning. He was displaying extraordinary behavior. He was having emotional outbursts. He attacked a female fellow soldier and caused her a red welt on her face. He was seen curled up in a ball on the floor. And yet, none of this was reported to senior officers. He even sent an email to one of his supervisors in which he had appended a photograph of himself dressed as a woman. Yet "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" existed at that time, and yet this wasn’t reported up the chain of command. That supervisor was disciplined for it and demoted one rank as a result. So, there’s an extraordinary picture coming out of an almost anarchic situation in the workplace in which he worked, where he had access to secret intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: Ed Pilkington, why was he held for a year and a half before this hearing, in Kuwait, then at Quantico, where in—for a large portion of the time, stripped nightly, then moved on to Leavenworth? Was there a discussion of the conditions under which he’s been held and the length of the detention before any kind of trial?
ED PILKINGTON: No. We know from defense papers that that’s something they’re going to raise, that they accuse the military of giving him pretrial harassment while he was at Quantico. They haven’t talked about that so far, actually, at the hearing. It may be something we hear later. But the question of how long it took is a question we, the press, were asking ourselves. They took 18 months to bring this to a pretrial hearing, and then they started what’s probably going to be a five-day hearing on a Friday, and they run it on a Saturday, and they run it on a Sunday. And they told us that, you know, they wanted to get this done as quickly as possible, to which we sat there scratching our heads, asking, "Why are we here on the weekend, when you took 18 months to get us here in the first place?" So there’s some very odd things about this pretrial hearing. A lot of discussion has been occurring in private, and we don’t know what it’s been about. But certainly we know that one of the reasons they say they took so long was that they were dealing with confidential, secret documents. Now, all those documents have been published by WikiLeaks, so there’s another question.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by, Ed? You have covered this for many months, as you said, but in this hearing.
ED PILKINGTON: The one thing that so far has stood out for me is the complete absence of discipline within the unit in which Manning was working. Bear in mind, this is a front forward operating base. It’s in—it’s just outside Iraq, at a very heavy time in Iraq. They were really front-line workers. And yet, there was virtually no control over what they were doing. They had access to a massive SIPRNet, it’s called, a massive database of secret intelligence, without any supervision. And, you know, in the middle of the heart of a huge war in Iraq, you wonder how that could happen.
AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of Julian Assange, how the investigation of him, a grand jury empaneled to deal with him in Virginia, fits in to this case of Bradley Manning?
ED PILKINGTON: Yes. I mean, the defense have already raised that. They say that there is evidence that Manning is being put under pressure, that they’re going for a heavy sentence, in order to get him to testify and turn state witness against Julian Assange. And they—I think they’re also likely to argue that that’s why Manning was given such extraordinarily hard treatment, some say equivalent to torture, while he was at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. Now, we don’t know their evidence for that, and so far, that remains a conspiracy theory, in the sense that it’s not backed up by evidence. But it’s a strong argument, and I think we’re likely to be hearing much more about it in the months to come.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ed Pilkington, I want to thank you for being with us. He is the U.S. correspondent for The Guardian at Bradley Manning’s trial, the military Article 32 trial, for the last three days. Go take your child to school, Ed.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’re going to speak with the hacker who turned Bradley Manning in and then with Glenn Greenwald, who has written extensively, was the one who exposed the conditions under which Bradley Manning was held at Quantico. Stay with us.