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In Plea in Military Court, Bradley Manning to Explain Why He Released Information to WikiLeaks

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who the United States military is prosecuting for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, will read from or refer to a typed thirty-five page statement on February 28 when he gives his proposed plea. The statement will include his understanding of why he is guilty of committing elements of the original charges or lesser-included offenses, along with why he decided to provide information to WikiLeaks.

David Coombs, Manning’s defense lawyer, said during proceedings at the military court at Fort Meade that Manning himself had typed it up and signed it. He said the court agreed to allow Manning to read the statement aloud.

The government argued a motion objecting to parts of the plea. They had a problem with Manning reading a statement in court. The government suggested that Manning’s statement included uncharged misconduct.

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind asked what the defense’s position was on having uncharged misconduct in the statement. Coombs mentioned the Iraqi federal police and said it goes to why he would have released “certain information to WikiLeaks.”

The concern was that Manning could be admitting to uncharged misconduct that could be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing. Coombs said he recognized the uncharged misconduct is in the statement, but he did not feel it would be damaging to Manning.

What is likely being referred to can be found in the chat logs between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo:

 (02:31:02 PM) Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything
(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:35:46 PM) Lamo : I’m not here right now
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently
(02:37:37 PM) Manning: i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
(02:38:12 PM) Lamo: That could happen in Colombia.
(02:38:21 PM) Lamo: Different cultures, dude.
(02:38:28 PM) Lamo: Life is cheaper.
(02:38:34 PM) Manning: oh im quite aware

The uncharged misconduct may be that he was talking to Lamo about the Iraqi federal police and that was classified or sensitive information he was not to disclose. However, this goes to what he was thinking when he passed on the information to WikiLeaks and he rightfully wants to get it into the record.

The government has an interest in not having this in his plea. Under the guise of concern for Manning’s rights to fair trial, they objected. Coombs and Lind had an exchange and decided to waive appeal if the judge talks with him on Thursday, uncharged misconduct comes out in court and the judge decides to cite it in her ruling to convict or sentence him. The judge informed Manning of what his defense lawyer was doing and he demonstrated to her that he understood what it meant to waive his right to appeal.

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind, in addressing the government’s opposition, explained she did not want Manning to read a “sworn written statement” he had signed. She preferred he answered questions when giving his plea. She added, “He can try to read it, but I am going to stop him,” if what he is saying is not relevant to being guilty of committing the offenses of which he is pleading guilty.

Coombs said it had been discussed that he would read the statement. He claimed the court had “implied” it wanted him to read it. It was created by Manning to “give the court background facts” for questions when he gives the plea (a portion that is technically called a providence inquiry).

The judge asked military prosecutor Cpt. Joe Morrow if there was any prohibition on dialogue between the judge and accused to prevent mitigating issues from coming out. Morrow, arguing why the government objected, did not disagree that aggravating evidence (evidence that could increase a sentence) and mitigating evidence (evidence that could decrease a sentence) could come out. However, he claimed it was “highly irregular” for a sworn statement to be written and read into the record. He also contended it would make it difficult to cross-examine him during trial.

Morrow went over some of the portions in the statement that the government specifically objects to being read in court. One of them talks about “staying in contact” with Nathaniel and how Manning thought he was “developing a friendship.” They would talk about not only the publications WikiLeaks was working. He later realized he valued the friendship himself more than Nathaniel. (“Nathaniel Frank,” the name on the account the government has claimed was being used by WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, though no actual proof of him sending messages to Manning has been presented.)

The judge asked how this would be prejudicial if he talked about it. Morrow said he couldn’t articulate why. The judge decided she would go through and look at portions. The government should look at portions and, if they find aspects that suggest conduct that would bring discredit to the military, raise it in court.

The other issue the judge raised was the fact that Manning intends to tell her about how I committed certain acts with “noble motive.” She said, “What is at issue is whether it was service discrediting or prejudicial for that matter.” He might describe acts when pleading guilty that one could consider helpful to the military. She requested Coombs speak to Manning and make sure when giving his plea his statement contains information that shows he engaged in service that discredited the military.

“We’ve had this discussion and he knows,” Coombs responded. “He understands his statement and he understands the elements he needs to plead guilty.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."