Pfc. Bradley Manning faces a potential life sentence if convicted of leaking documents.
In WikiLeaks Case, Defense Puts the Jailers on Trial
FORT MEADE, Md. — In a half-empty courtroom here, with a crew of fervent supporters in attendance, Pfc. Bradley Manning and his lawyer have spent the last two weeks turning the tables on the government.
Private Manning faces a potential life sentence if convicted on charges that he gave WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy organization, hundreds of thousands of confidential military and diplomatic documents. But for now, he has been effectively putting on trial his former jailers at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base. His lawyer, David E. Coombs, has grilled one Quantico official after another, demanding to know why his client was kept in isolation and stripped of his clothing at night as part of suicide-prevention measures.
Mr. Coombs, a polite but relentless interrogator who stands a foot taller than his client, has laid bare deep disagreements inside the military: psychiatrists thought the special measures unnecessary, while jail commanders ignored their advice and kept the suicide restrictions in place. In a long day of testimony last week, Private Manning of the Army, vilified as a dangerous traitor by some members of Congress but lauded as a war-crimes whistle-blower on the political left, heartened his sympathizers with an eloquent and even humorous performance on the stand.
“He was engaged, chipper, optimistic,” said Bill Wagner, 74, a retired NASA solar physicist who is a courtroom regular, dressed in the black “Truth” T-shirt favored by Private Manning’s supporters.
Private Manning, who turns 25 on Dec. 17 and looks much younger, was quietly attentive during Friday’s court session, in a dress uniform, crew-cut blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. If his face were not already familiar from television news, he might have been mistaken for a first-year law student assisting the defense team.
It seemed incongruous that he has essentially acknowledged responsibility for the largest leak of classified material in history. The material included a quarter-million State Department cables whose release may have chilled diplomats’ ability to do their work discreetly but also helped fuel the Arab Spring; video of American helicopter crews shooting people on the ground in Baghdad who they thought were enemy fighters but were actually Reuters journalists; field reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and confidential assessments of the detainees locked up at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Continue reading