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Government Argues Defense Shouldn’t Have Access to ‘DoD Operator’ on Bin Laden Raid Before Manning Trial

A military prosecutor in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning argued before a military judge the defense should not have access to a Defense Department “operator” they intend to call during trial. The “operator” was part of the team that raided Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and the government wants to keep his identity concealed.

The “operator” is being referred to as Mr. John Doe. Military prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein informed the judge they would like Mr. Doe to testify under a pseudonym. They would like to limit the defense’s ability to cross-examine him for discovery because “that could reveal his true identity.” They would like to limit discovery and cross-examination on the mission where bin Laden was killed and the execution and training that led to the mission. They

Defense lawyer David Coombs, who is representing Manning, opposes this move by the government. He claimed there is no prior case that supports imposing these kind of restrictions on access to the witness. “Manning has a Sixth Amendment right to confront and thoroughly cross-examine any government witness,” Coombs asserted.

The government would like the defense to get to a closed session during trial when Mr. Doe takes the stand and not have a prepared cross-examination that could challenge his testimony. This means they may have no knowledge of whether he has memory issues, whether Mr. Doe has made untruthful statements before or whether has made statements that have made it to the press, which might support an argument that some of his testimony could be given in open court.

On February 27, the government revealed they would be eliciting testimony from this “operator,” an individual who is likely a SEAL who seized the digital media that was found to contain copies of documents published by WikiLeaks. The government would like to have at least five other witnesses on the stand to testify about the chain of custody: how the evidence was given to someone in Afghanistan then to an FBI agent who went to Quantico and then passed it on to a forensic examiner.

It has been known since January that the government intends to use “digital media found during the UBL raid” to argue that Manning “aided the enemy.” There was apparently a “letter from UBL to Al Qaeda requesting a member gather [Defense Department] information.” A response to that letter had CIDNE reports—war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan—and State Department cables attached. Bin Laden had these in his possession “at the time of the raid.”

The defense made their argument against how the government has handled Mr. Doe in open court. He commented that the raid had been “well-documented.” He doubted whether there was classified information that needed to continue to be protected because the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, had been released, a book by a SEAL involved in the raid was written and various government officials had made public statements about what happened during the course of the raid. [cont’d.]

Photo from US Navy Seals, public domain

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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