Through Clips from ‘Collateral Murder’ Video, Defense Attempts to Show ‘Truth’ About Bradley Manning
“The Truth.” That is how the PowerPoint presentation the defense for Pfc. Bradley Manning put together for closing argument started.
The truth is what Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, told Manning supporters they would hear tomorrow when he explained why Manning had disclosed certain information to WikiLeaks and how the government was creating its own fictional story to support what they think was done by Bradley Manning.
How can one know that somebody is telling the truth? Coombs said look at “how that person acts or behaves at a time when they don’t think anyone is watching.” This could be done by looking at chats the Manning had with hacker and government informant Adrian Lamo, Lauren McNamara or the person possibly with WikiLeaks, who was using the “pressassociation” account.
For example, he told McNamara in 2009 chats that he could apply what he learned to provide more information to officers and commanders and “hopefully save lives.” He said he was concerned about “making sure that everybody, soldiers, marines, contractors, even the local nationals, get home to their families.” He said he placed a “value on people first.”
Now, this does not support the offense the prosecutors have charged, that of “aiding the enemy.” It does not support the idea that he was a “traitor.” But, as Coombs argued, this is how Manning truly felt about people when he was deployed.
Lamo testified that Manning thought the information would have an impact on the entire world. Casualty figures in Iraq would be disclosed. If people knew them, they would be alarmed. If people read diplomatic cables, they would be alarmed by what people were saying about other countries. As Coombs put it, they would see, “We act with our self-interest in mind and oftentimes that’s to the exploitation of a third world country.”
Manning was influenced to disclose information by an incident that occurred on Christmas Eve, where civilians got out of the way for a military convoy, and were hit by an explosive and killed. He was concerned about those who died and also concerned that soldiers in his unit only cared that the convoy had avoided being hit but did not really care about the civilians killed.
He was influenced to disclose information when fifteen Iraqis were arrested by the Iraqi federal police for “printing anti-Iraqi literature but really a scholarly critique.” Manning believed they would likely be tortured.
Coombs argued he thought important information needed to get out. He could not “separate himself from others.” He was “connected to everybody.” And he thought “we were all distant family.”
“What a great feeling to have at his age. What a great thing for a young man to feel a duty to everybody regardless of who they are,” Coombs declared. “That is something that is not anti-patriotic. That is not anti-American.”
It was his first deployment. This was the first time Manning was seeing information on the secret government networks. He hoped that things could change based upon the information.
When he was in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, everything was hypothetical. People dying was pretend. But, in Iraq, people were now dying. He could not read the information he was reading in Iraq and be disengaged. Manning was troubled by what he was seeing.
Coombs played three clips from the video of the Apache helicopter attack in 2007 in Baghdad where two Reuters journalists were killed.
Narrating, Coombs said, “Think how would a young 21-year-old look” at this when they are “thinking of the loss of human life.” One can clearly see an individual is carrying a camera. A “guy is down.” He is “clearly wounded.” But, “we’re going to shoot him some more.”
“They’re firing into a cloud of dust.” “Ammunition lands, and they laugh about it, where he was aiming and where it actually lands.” Coombs adds, they’re “targets,” that’s “how you talk about people in order to not be concerned that you’re just killing people.”
The soldiers shoot him some more. They “just shoot him.” People are on the ground. We now know the truth, Coombs said, that two reporters were there just standing in a group and they were “shot like fish in a barrel.”
In a second clip, a guy is crawling on the curb. Soldiers “ask if he’s got a weapon.” The guy is crawling on the ground. They’re watching that and “this is a real person.”
“C’mon buddy all you got to do is pick up a weapon,” the soldiers say. “He picks up something and they’re going to kill him,” Coombs said. Meanwhile, units are coming. Ground troops are close by and a van pulls up. People are picking up bodies and weapons. They are “picking up a wounded person. Children are inside the van. Two people are unarmed “trying to take a wounded man into the van.”
Coombs suggested the soldiers are “begging” for permission to engage. They fire at a guy and then fire some more at him as he lies on the ground. They fire several rounds into the van. “Just constantly firing on the van.” Soldiers then congratulate each other on a good shoot, and, when they find out children are killed, they say it’s the fault of the parents for bringing children on to the battlefield.
“Some people might view that as the battlefield. Those people viewed that as their homes, as their street,” and “not the battlefield,” Coombs stated.
Coombs tried to articulate what he would be thinking as he watched the video and the judge stopped him. She said she did not understand why that would be relevant. (She interrupted the defense. At no point during the government’s closing argument was the government ever interrupted.)
It is “common sense that you disengaged from difficult things so you can go to bed at night and sleep,” Coombs said. “What do you do when these images are burned in your mind?”
A third clip played showed an “innocent bystander just walking, no weapons, no nothing.” Who was this person? “What was that person’s hopes and goals in life?” Coombs asked.
They see the person, but do they talk about collateral damage? No. They decide they are going to engage the building again.
Finally, Coombs suggested the story the military prosecutors want to tell about Manning “has a logic of a child when you listen to the facts and compare to conclusions they try to draw. There is no sophistication there.” He added the “evidence doesn’t support the diatribe they did yesterday.”
The closing argument was a clear attempt to re-humanize Manning, to present him as the person many in the world have come to laud and support and not the caricature the prosecutors have tried to create, the man who was demonized yesterday as an “anarchist,” “hacker,” “traitor,” who no longer had allegiance with his country.
For more on the defense’s closing argument, go here.