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As Bradley Manning Hearing Concludes, Military Prosecutors Say WikiLeaks Disclosures Aided al-Qaeda

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Lawyers made their closing arguments Thursday in the military pretrial hearing for accused Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, which will determine whether he should face a court-martial for allegedly leaking classified video and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. “[The defense] suggested that the original classification authorities for this classified information that Bradley Manning is accused of releasing actually take the stand and be put under oath next time, because they keep saying that there is a risk to national security, and he would like to see them go under oath, and they would probably perjure themselves if they did,” says Firedoglake blogger Kevin Gosztola, who was present at Manning’s hearing. He notes that the prosecution “linked Bradley Manning to aiding al-Qaeda… That essentially is criminalizing national security journalism… What they’re saying is anybody who puts this information on the internet—if you do a report on a drone strike, if you do a report on anything related to military operations, and then al-Qaeda reads it, then you could be accused of aiding the enemy.” [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: The military pretrial hearing for alleged Army whistleblower Bradley Manning concluded yesterday. Lawyers made their closing arguments following the testimony of just two witnesses for the defense. Prosecution lawyers called a total of 21 witnesses. The pretrial hearing was held in Fort Meade, Maryland, and lasted seven days, to determine whether Manning should face a court-martial for allegedly leaking classified video and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.

In closing arguments, the defense said the government had failed to help the emotionally troubled soldier, while the prosecution argued the document release had helped al-Qaeda, showing a video in which a recruiter for the militant group referred to WikiLeaks and urged followers to, quote, “take advantage of the wide range of resources available today on the Internet.”

AMY GOODMAN: The defense urged the investigating officer to reduce the charges against Manning. The 24-year-old soldier currently faces 22 separate counts of distributing state secrets and aiding the enemy. Both witnesses who appeared for the defense were military comrades who testified about Manning’s alleged erratic behavior and the lax security environment on the Baghdad computer system he used. The court is expected to take several weeks to render a decision regarding a possible court-martial.

To find out more about the case, we go to Washington, D.C., to talk to Kevin Gosztola. He was present at Manning’s pretrial hearing. Gosztola writes for “The Dissenter” and blogs at Firedoglake.

Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you please explain the last few days—we followed it every day—of the pretrial military hearing, that looks very much like it’s leading to a court-martial of Bradley Manning?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Right. In the last few days, we had the closing arguments, and so we heard from the defense. And the defense basically came out and presented their closing argument, and they did the best that they could with the evidence that they were permitted to present. The investigative officer or the prosecution only allowed two witnesses to take the stand.

And so, what they were left with is condemning the government for overcharging Bradley Manning, and they said they were overreaching. He suggested that the original classification authorities for this classified information that Bradley Manning is accused of releasing actually take the stand and be put under oath next time, because they keep saying that there is a risk to national security, and he would like to see them go under oath, and they would probably perjure themselves if they did. He was specifically talking about putting people like Geoff Morrell and Hillary Clinton under oath. And then he just went on, and he talked about Bradley Manning and some of the problems that he was experiencing in the military and how he had literature about transsexuals in the military.

Sharply contrasting was the prosecution, which, as you said in your opening, suggested that Bradley Manning helped al-Qaeda, because he released information to WikiLeaks, and he knew, based on his experience as an intelligence analyst, that this would in fact happen, because he was trained to protect the information, and he was aware that WikiLeaks was looking for information. They had a most-wanted list. But he was a guiding light, and they said that he helped harvest the information.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Kevin, on this issue of the overcharging on the 22 counts for which Manning faces up to 150 years in prison, if convicted, the prosecution is alleging there were 22 separate incidents in which he violated state secrets?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, no. There’s not 22 separate incidents. There’s only maybe about six or seven, when you break it down. But they’re attaching charges, additional charges, to each of the documents. So, for example, he’s alleged to have released the Iraq War Logs and Afghanistan War Logs, the United States State embassy cables, the Reykjavik cable, the Garani video of a Farah incident in Afghanistan, the “Collateral Murder” video, etc. And then, for each of those, there is a set of specifications that go along with leaking those pieces of information. And so, they’re saying that he downloaded unauthorized software to his computer in order to make transfers to WikiLeaks. And they’re saying that he had unauthorized information on his computer that he downloaded. And then, of course, the transfer of the information out to WikiLeaks is a charge, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: You said they presented their case based on the restrictions. What were the restrictions for the defense, Kevin?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, I would begin by mentioning that the investigative officer, Paul Almanza, was objected by the defense. The defense wanted him to recuse himself on the first day. And part of the problem that they had was that he has a background with the Department of Justice, which also has an investigation into WikiLeaks right now. And the defense’s fear—and it looks like it could be happening here, especially if Manning is charged and is going to get life without parole—they’re worried that Bradley Manning is going to be—they think they’re going to try to flip Bradley Manning to go against WikiLeaks. And so, that was part of the issue.

The other issue was that the prosecution would not allow these witnesses. So they had a list of 48 witnesses. Ten of them happened to be on the prosecution’s list. There were 38 witnesses then that they were trying to call on their own accord. And those were all denied. Thirty-six of them were denied. And so, they ultimately had two witnesses that were able to speak. And so, what happened is, you’ve got people who were watching, wondering why nobody from Quantico is taking the stand to discuss his pretrial confinement. And you’ve also—were wondering why the defense’s case was so weak. Well, the answer is because that the government and this investigative officer, Almanza, did basically everything they could to ensure that only a few bits of evidence were able to be entered into the record to support the defense’s argument for Bradley Manning.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrian Lamo is one of those who testified. He’s the former hacker who last year informed the U.S. military authorities of his conversations with Private Bradley Manning in Iraq. In internet chats with Lamo using a pseudonym, Manning allegedly disclosed he was providing materials to WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Lamo testified at the hearing. Prior to his testimony this week, he appeared on Democracy Now! and said that Bradley Manning’s leaks had the potential to harm the United States. This is what he said.

ADRIAN LAMO: I don’t believe that you can directly say that a single person has or has not been harmed by the leaks. It’s like saying whether or not a death is attributable to smoking or whether the person would have developed cancer naturally. The leaks have the real potential to do harm or hazard. And then, additionally, they still do long-term damage to U.S. diplomacy with other countries, which in turn weakens our international position.

AMY GOODMAN: And folks can go to the website democracynow.org to see, hear, read the full interview with Adrian Lamo. Kevin Gosztola, what did he say on the stand? And your response to what he says here?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Right. So when Adrian Lamo took the stand, he was basically put on the stand to explain his role as a confidential informant for the United States government. And we learned specific details, just before his testimony, from an agent who took the stand and described that relationship, which began some time, they said, in the end of May or the first part of June. There was physical contact. And so, Adrian was on the stand, and basically he was brought up to explain his conversations in the chat logs.

And the highlight, I think, of the cross-examination is that Coombs, from the defense, confronted Adrian Lamo on this opening of the chats, where he offers journalistic protection, or he says, “I’m a minister, and you could consider this as a confession.” And then, also, he was pushed on this fact that just a number—just one day into the chat logs, he actually made contact, he tipped off the authorities to the fact that he was engaged with this intelligence analyst. And then he proceeded to have chats for the next few days. And Coombs pressed him extraordinarily on this fact that he was trying to incriminate Bradley Manning and that he was also trying to egg him on to share all these details about what he had done.

And so, as you read these chat logs, you can see him saying things about the U.S. State embassy cables that just make it so that’s really what the government had to decide that they were going to detain Bradley Manning and then ultimately seize all of his property. So it became—it’s abundantly clear that without the chat logs, the government could not have investigated Bradley Manning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, in Lamo’s testimony, when did his communication with Manning begin in relationship to the WikiLeaks disclosures?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: They began—I mean, it was like May 21st that they start talking, that Lamo and Manning start having conversations.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by, Kevin, as you sat through this pretrial hearing for the past week?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, I mean, I don’t want to be too meta and talk about my experience as being part of the media pool, but I couldn’t help but notice that whenever I went on base, I was being escorted, and then the media was being secluded in this location on the military base. And while the public affairs representatives for the military were very polite and helpful in what we were trying to do, I did speak to some people who were from the public who attended the hearing, and they told me that, wow, they really treat you so strictly. I mean, you have to be escorted everywhere, and you have to go everywhere with some—you had to be in a van. And they really didn’t want us to wander around. And we had a lot of restrictions while we were on the base. And some of them are normal restrictions that you have with a courtroom, but they really were worried, I think, as to the sort of stories that the media was going to produce about the trial.

And that also had to do with why they scheduled the hearing in such a manner so that it happened on a weekend. I mean, the pool was significantly reduced on Saturday and Sunday. We had gone from about 70 people, I would say, down to maybe 30 to 35 members of the media who were actually covering the trial, because it’s the weekend, and they didn’t want to do any work. And so, I’d say the government made a calculated decision to schedule this hearing, and they also scheduled it very close to the holidays. And so, I think that, in the end, there is less media coverage overall in the United States because of where they put the hearing.

And then, I would say that the final thing that really struck me about this hearing is how they presented the evidence—the government—and actually linked Bradley Manning to aiding al-Qaeda. I mean, that essentially is criminalizing national security journalism, if you really work this thing out, because what they’re saying is anybody who puts this information on the internet—if you do a report on a drone strike, if you do a report on anything related to military operations, and then al-Qaeda reads it, then you could be accused of aiding the enemy.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola, I want to thank you for being with us, writes for “The Dissenter” blog at Firedoglake. He attended Manning’s pretrial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland.

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