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Bradley Manning’s Defense Strategy on Display as Military Prosecutors Rest Case in Pretrial Hearing

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The pretrial military hearing for accused Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning has entered its sixth day. Prosecutors have finished laying out their case, and today the defense witnesses are expected to testify. Manning has been imprisoned for the past 19 months for allegedly leaking classified videos and diplomatic U.S. cables to the website WikiLeaks. On Monday, military prosecutors claimed they had discovered what they believe is email correspondence between Manning and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. If convicted, Manning could face life in prison, possibly death. We get an update from Ed Pilkington, a correspondent for The Guardian, which has been blogging about the hearing since it began last Friday. “[The defense is] claiming … that Manning has not been given the right to a fair pretrial hearing, because we think they’re only likely to be able to call three witnesses. Now that’s in addition to 10 witnesses they shared with the prosecution, but it’s still a tiny number compared with the total of 48 that Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, asked for,” Pilkington says. “And if, by contrast, the defense is only allowed to call three of its own witnesses, that looks pretty unequal to me.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The prosecution has finished laying out its case against accused Army whistleblower Private Bradley Manning. Today his pretrial military hearing enters its sixth day at Fort Meade, Maryland, and the first defense witnesses are expected to testify.

Yesterday, the man responsible for turning Bradley Manning in to the FBI and Army took the stand. Former hacker Adrian Lamo denied in his testimony that he had violated a journalistic or ministerial promise of confidentiality when he turned over the chat logs that led to Manning’s arrest.

Manning has been held for the past 19 months for allegedly leaking classified videos and diplomatic U.S. cables to the website WikiLeaks. On Monday, military prosecutors claimed they had discovered what they believe is email correspondence between Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. In one letter, Manning reportedly wrote, quote, “This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time. Removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.” In another email, Manning reportedly took credit for leaking a video that showed a U.S. helicopter gunship killing a group of Iraqi men, including two employees of Reuters.

AMY GOODMAN: Monday’s hearing had other dramatic moments. The nation’s most famous whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, was temporarily removed from the hearing after he attempted to speak to Manning. Another supporter, former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, was also forcibly ejected from the base.

It will be at least a month before the investigating officer on the case decides whether to recommend a court-martial hearing for Manning. If convicted, he could face life in prison, possibly death.

To find out more about the hearing, we’re joined by—via Democracy Now! video stream by Ed Pilkington, a U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian. It’s been blogging about Manning’s pretrial hearing since it began last Friday, and Ed was there through the weekend.

Welcome to Democracy Now! again, Ed. Can you talk about the latest revelations in these two days, Monday and Tuesday, in this Article 32 hearing of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning?

ED PILKINGTON: Yes. Well, we had—on the one side, we had the end of the prosecution case, and in which they were piling on evidence that Bradley Manning was involved in the leaking to WikiLeaks. And that’s what they need to do. They need to pass a fairly low bar in this hearing to show that there is evidence around to sustain a full court-martial trial, so that the email exchange with Julian Assange, which they claimed that Manning had carried out from his personal computer, is an important part of that evidence.

And they also piled on more colleagues speaking about how he was engaged using his computer late at night and how he was showing sort of elements of ill-disciplined behavior. And that’s what the defense was picking up through their cross-examination. They continued to try to show that the Army behaved negligently in failing to pick up on signs of erratic and then sometimes violent behavior by Manning in precisely the time when the leaks are alleged to have happened. So they continue to make that case, the defense. And as you said earlier, today is the big day for the defense. They will roll out their defense witnesses.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is going much longer than expected. This pretrial hearing was expected to be, at the most, five days. We’re now in the sixth day, and the defense is just beginning.

ED PILKINGTON: Yeah. Well, I think these pretrial hearings can last sort of a very, very long time, and there has been a degree of legal wrangling, particularly at the start, over precisely how many witnesses can be called. It may well wrap up pretty quickly. It may wrap up today. And that’s part of the story for the defense. They are claiming, and their—Bradley Manning’s supporters are picking up on this strongly, that Manning has not been given the right to a fair pretrial hearing, because we think they’re only likely to be able to call three witnesses. Now that’s in addition to 10 witnesses they shared with the prosecution, but it’s still a tiny number compared with the total of 48 that Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, asked for. And David Coombs, lawyer, who’s been quite theatrically sort of outgoing in the courtroom, has made very clear that he’s not happy about that in front of the presiding investigating officer, or the judge, in this pre-hearing. He said that this isn’t fair, that Bradley Manning is being withheld a proper hearing, and that it’s crucial to them to be able to call all the witnesses they wanted to in order to go on, if there is a court-martial trial in the end of this process, in order to have a fair trial. And certainly, it does look odd. We’ve had about 15 prosecution witnesses come before the court. And if, by contrast, the defense is only allowed to call three of its own witnesses, that’s—you know, that looks pretty unequal to me.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But do you think—is the case—is the defense trying to make the case that Bradley Manning was somehow emotionally unstable, rather than relying on the fact that a number of government institutions, including the State Department, the White House, etc., their reviews found that none of the disclosures actually, in any sense, compromised U.S. national security?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, you know, it is important to say we don’t know what the defense is going to do, because this isn’t a trial. What they may be doing is just seeking information that will then help them prepare a totally different defense, come a proper court-martial trial. So we don’t know what they’re doing, but certainly we’ve had hints about what one thinks must be their strategy. And certainly, the instability of Bradley Manning, the fact that he wasn’t properly cared for and controlled, is top of the list. They have mentioned the fact that government reviews suggest that the WikiLeaks documents were not hugely harmful to U.S. national interest. They’ve mentioned that. And they have mentioned a few other lines, which perhaps they’re going to pick up at a later stage.

But it does seem to be the case that they’re focusing on Bradley Manning’s state of mind. And to some degree, that’s got other groups angry. There have been comments from gay groups and transgender groups saying, “Hang on. Why are you implying that a gay man is not a reliable security intelligence officer in the Army? This is precisely what we’ve been fighting against under the ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy for many years, so why are you doing this?” So it is causing a little bit of debate among Bradley Manning supporters.

AMY GOODMAN: The question is whether they’re going to argue for—in the actual trial and the court-martial, whether the defense will argue he should be protected as a whistleblower, perhaps the greatest whistleblower in U.S. history—Dan Ellsberg was at the trial and says that about Bradley Manning—or that he was simply emotionally unstable, that he had punched a superior officer, that he had indications of serious mental instability in Iraq. And even before, it was recommended by some in basic training that he not be allowed to go to Iraq, Ed.

ED PILKINGTON: Yes, I mean, the instability line is interesting, because one can only assume that would help try and get a lesser sentence in mitigation, but it’s not going to help make a defense of innocence or any other defense that would actually get him off the charges altogether. So it seems to be an argument that’s designed for further down the line, towards the end of a trial, when you get to the mitigation aspect of it.

I mean, they have floated one other thing, which is they have questioned prosecution witnesses about what is the precise evidence that it was Manning himself that used these computers. OK, they were Manning’s own computers, but that doesn’t mean he was the one who was using them at the time of the alleged leaks. Also, they talk about this exchange with Julian Assange having been made from a laptop belonging to another soldier. So, how come it was Manning who was making that email exchange and not the other soldier?

So they have been asking some questions that go to the heart of: was Manning the soldier involved who precisely made these leaks? So, that might become much more important at a court-martial trial. We don’t know. But certainly, most of what we’ve heard from the defense has been focusing on mitigation, to get a lesser sentence, and not on the innocence—the question of innocence or defense under whistleblowing laws, as you say.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ed, who are the witnesses that the defense is likely to call?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, we don’t know, because they haven’t been telling us ahead of anyone coming into court, and then they’ve been citing security issues. Well, one doesn’t quite know what those security issues are, but that’s what they’ve been telling us. We don’t know. Manning’s lawyer has put out the full list of 48 people he wants to call, redacted, so without any names. We know that two of them were President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and we know they’re not going to get Obama and Clinton. But they also called psychologists and psychiatrists who inspected Manning at the time of the leaks and who, according to the defense papers, documents, advise that he was in an unstable state and that he should be taken off the night shift and taken off secure intelligence work.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed, we know you have to go, but just two quick questions.


AMY GOODMAN: One is, what are the media restrictions on the reporters inside this hearing room? And finally, what were you most surprised by so far in the latest days?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, the media restrictions were very peculiar. We weren’t allowed—we’re still not allowed to report or have our wi-fi connection on to the outside world whilst the court is sitting and is open and they’re discussing these affairs, which is very peculiar, because, like, why would they want to do that? I mean, once our wi-fi is back on, we’re going to report on them anyway, so there’s no conceivable reason why they’re doing that to us. So it’s very peculiar.

The most surprising thing, I think, has been the degree of shambles at high levels in the Army in running a show at the very heart of the front line of a major war in Iraq. And we’ve heard a lot about how Bradley Manning was running virtually without any controls at all. And that puzzles—continues to puzzle me. We keep hearing more and more information about that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ed, on a completely different issue, you wrote recently in The Guardian about the E.U. move to block trade in medical drugs to the U.S. Can you talk about that?

ED PILKINGTON: Yes. Britain did this last November, but now it’s being spread right across the entire E.U. And it’s a export control, very, very tight one, on two drugs: pentobarbital and sodium thiopental, which happen to be the only two drugs that are used as sedatives in U.S. executions. They’re absolutely essential: without them, executions in America cannot happen. And Europe is one of the main areas in which America gets these drugs. American manufacturers don’t produce them anymore. So, supplies are running short. Many of the 34 states who carry out the execution sentence are running low. And this could prove very, very interesting in the few months to come.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Pilkington, we want to thank you very much for being with us, U.S. correspondent for The Guardian newspaper in Britain. The Guardian is blogging regularly at the Bradley Manning pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland. Pentobarbital is one of the drugs that was used in the execution of Troy Anthony Davis on September 21st in Georgia.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute with former Lieutenant Dan Choi. He attended the Bradley Manning hearing on Saturday and Sunday but was banned from returning on Monday. When he attempted to go into the hearing, he was wrestled to the ground, he was handcuffed, and he’ll talk about the rest in a moment.

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Iraq Combat Veteran Dan Choi Forcibly Ousted, Barred from Bradley Manning Hearing at Ft. Meade

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