FT. MEADE, Md.— Young, naive, gay and good-intentioned, wanting to save lives in a combat zone, feeling responsible for U.S soldiers and Iraqi citizens and hoping they all make it home safely — that is the true Pfc. Bradley Manning, his chief defense attorney asserted Friday near the end of his Army court-martial.
David Coombs, a civilian and a veteran, offered those descriptions in his closing arguments as the judge in Manning’s trial prepared to begin deliberating on whether the 25-year-old soldier is guilty of espionage and aiding the enemy in providing more than 700,000 confidential records, videos and other material to WikiLeaks.
Coombs sharply countered comments from the chief military prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, who Thursday said Manning was a traitor who was star struck with WikiLeaks and wanted to glom on to its global franchise exposing government secrets.
But no, Coombs cautioned, “He’s not seeking attention. He’s saying he’s willing to accept the price for what he’s doing. But he’s not seeking attention.”
Coombs displayed in large blue-and-white letters copies of Manning’s personal emails, some after his 2009 deployment to Iraq as a classified intelligence analyst, others around his arrest in early 2010 for the largest breach of U.S. secrets in the nation’s history.
“I’m more concerned about making sure that everyone — soldiers, Marines, contractors, even the local nationals get home to their families,” Manning emailed.
“I place value on people first,” he said in a later email. “One of the bad parts of the job, having to think about bad stuff,” he emailed further.
In yet another email Manning described to a fellow Internet chatter his angst over whether to start disclosing classified data. “What would you do?” he asked, if you knew explosive material was stored away in a “dark room in Washington” that if exposed would reveal the inside story of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the inner workings of the State Department, and how terror detainees are treated at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“That is a whistle-blower. That is somebody who wants to inform the American public,” Coombs told the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind.
Coombs played for her a video clip of a now-notorious U.S. Apache helicopter firing indiscriminately at a group of civilians, killing and wounding journalists, children and others.
“Look at this from the eyes of a young man who cares about young life,” Coombs told the judge.
Then he offered his own commentary as the black-and-white images played on inside the crowded Ft. Meade courtroom: “The guy’s down. … They’re clearly shooting anyway. … We’re going to shoot him some more. ... They laugh about that. … Shooting some more. Just shooting. People on the ground. …”
He also encouraged the judge to look closer at a still photograph Manning took of himself around the time he started cooperating with WikiLeaks. In it he is smiling broadly, evidence the prosecution said shows he was delighted in his coming celebrity.
But no, Coombs said again. Manning is wearing a bra. He is cross-dressing. “He’s smiling because maybe he’s able to be himself at that moment,” Coombs said.