The pre-trial military hearing of Bradley Manning (24), the U.S. Army intelligence officer accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of confidential files to online whistleblower Wikileaks more than a year ago, will focus on one question: whether he was mentally competent and technically qualified to hold the sensitive role that he did.
With Mr. Manning facing the prospect of a military court-martial, which could theoretically impose the death penalty on the charge of “aiding the enemy,” his defence team has hinted that its arguments, beginning Wednesday, would likely draw attention to expert testimonies that he was “a troubled young man who shouldn't have had access to classified material, let alone be sent to Iraq,” and that the “military computer security [was] lax at Manning's Baghdad workplace, where soldiers played games, music and movies on computers meant for classified information”.
Led by his attorney David Coombs, Mr. Manning's defence will also raise the possibility that “soldiers other than Manning could have used the shared computers holding evidence of the alleged crimes,” sources said.
The defence arguments have begun this week following five days of testimony by the prosecution, which reached a dramatic climax on Tuesday when Adrian Lamo, the hacker who ultimately turned Mr. Manning in to the authorities, took to the stand.
In his statements, Mr. Lamo was quoted as saying he had traded instant messages and e-mails with Mr. Manning in May 2010 and “decided to go to the authorities right away because the soldier made claims of acts so egregious it required that response”.
Mr. Coombs' cross-examination of Mr. Lamo however was however built around the scenario of the hacker breaking the trust of a vulnerable Mr. Manning, who had spoken to Mr. Lamo in confidence about government data files.
Their exchange, quoted in the New York Times, saw Mr. Coombs asking Mr. Lamo, “Do you believe Mr. Manning was coming to you for moral support?” Mr. Lamo was quoted as replying, “I think he wanted to brag about what he had done.”
In the months leading to the trial numerous parties had called attention to Mr. Manning's fragile state, however, and attention was also focused on the conditions of his interment at a military prison in Quantico, Virginia.
A detailed report and video published by The Guardian newspaper in May showed that Mr. Manning was not only given a negative report by his commanding officers here, but was also noted by his colleagues as displaying signs buckling under enormous stress. Yet, in October 2009, Mr. Manning was sent to Forward Operating Base Hammer, near Baghdad.
In March 2011 P. J. Crowley, former Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Public Affairs and a spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said at a seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that the treatment meted out to Mr. Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the Department of Defence”. He has since resigned from the Department of State over his remarks on the case.
In January a non-profit group called Psychologists for Social Responsibility wrote an open letter to Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in which it said it was “deeply concerned about the conditions under which PFC Bradley Manning is being held,” citing in particular the fact that he was in solitary confinement for approximately 23 hours a day in a cell approximately six feet wide and 12 feet in length “for no discernable reason other than punishment...”