3 days in, WikiLeaks trial comes into focus

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Bradley Manning (AP Photo)

Bradley Manning (AP Photo)

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — Three days into Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court-martial for giving thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, prosecutors have shown the soldier was trained to guard classified information and knew it could easily fall into enemy hands, yet broke promises to protect it.

At the same time, the defense has revealed that Manning and other intelligence analysts worked in a relaxed atmosphere in Iraq, watching movies, playing computer games and listening to music when they were supposed to be producing reports from secret government databases to help capture enemy combatants. Manning’s defense has also tried to show he meant no harm to fellow soldiers, confidential sources or national security when he released sensitive material to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.

The soldier from Crescent, Okla., is charged under federal espionage and computer fraud laws, but the most serious offense the military has accused him of is aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence. To convict him of that, prosecutors must prove Manning knew the material he leaked would be seen by al-Qaida.

On Wednesday, Jihrleah Showman, who worked with Manning in Baghdad, testified that during the first three months of their deployment in late 2009 and early 2010, soldiers often spent working hours watching movies they brought in or listening to music they found on a shared hard drive reserved for classified material. She said the brigade commander banned such the entertainment in February 2010.

Defense attorney David Coombs asked one of Manning’s supervisors, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kyle Balonek, if music was allowed on the secure network. Balonek became evasive.

“It was there, sir,” he said. “I don’t know if it was authorized or not.”

Balonek testified he was reprimanded for failing to supervise Manning in Baghdad. He testified under immunity from prosecution for military criminal conduct, such as dereliction of duty.

Manning, 25, has acknowledged downloading hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports and video and State Department diplomatic cables to compact disks at work, and then using his personal computer to send the files to WikiLeaks.

Balonek acknowledged there were no restrictions on the type of information intelligence analysts could download. He also said he witnessed Manning signing an agreement not to disclose classified information without authorization, one of at least two that Manning signed as part of his training.

Showman said analysts had access to many kinds of information, but that didn’t mean they were supposed to look at all of it.

“It was your responsibility to look at things you needed,” she said. “Just because you had a secret clearance doesn’t mean you have legal access to see everything that has secret classification over it.”

However, two other witnesses — who ranked higher than Showman — testified there was no prohibition on analysts looking at any material on the network, as long as it was for a legitimate purpose.

Shortly before his arrest, Manning was disciplined for punching Showman in the face in what she has described as one of several violent outbursts both before and during their deployment. She did not testify about the punch Wednesday but could be recalled later.

One of the higher-ranking supervisors, Capt. Casey Fulton, said she had a conversation with Manning about video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack Fulton was surprised to see on the network news in April 2010, a month before the soldier was arrested.

She said she had previously seen the clip, showing the fatal shooting of a Reuters news photographer and his driver, on the shared hard drive in Baghdad. Manning has since acknowledged sending the clip to WikiLeaks, but he didn’t’ tell Fulton that, she testified.

She said she told Manning she thought the televised clip was an edited version of the one on the hard drive.

“He told me he thought it was the same video we had on our shared drive,” Fulton said. She said Manning then emailed her both versions for comparison.

“I was surprised to see it was the same video,” she said.

Manning’s lawyer has called him a “young, naive but good-intentioned” soldier, but prosecutors say he put secrets directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden.

His trial, which is being heard by a judge instead of a jury, is expected to run all summer. Testimony will resume next Monday.

Earlier in the trial, an instructor testified Manning was a serious, but pesky and inquisitive student who was ridiculed by classmates during advanced intelligence training in 2008 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

“At times, it was difficult to continue the lesson because he was always, ‘Why is that? What if?’” instructor Troy Moul said.

His unit supervisor, retired Sgt. 1st Class Brian Madrid, said Manning got in trouble for posting a YouTube video to family and friends in which he described what he was learning. Although the video revealed no classified information, Manning was trained to avoid disclosing any information about military intelligence online because it could be seen by militant Islamic insurgency groups, including al-Qaida.

As a corrective measure, Manning had to give a classroom presentation about operational security, Madrid said. When he asked Manning if he understood what he did wrong, “he said he understood it and it won’t happen again,” Madrid said.

Also on Wednesday, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press announced that 35 news organizations, including The Associated Press, are supporting the Center for Constitutional Rights’ federal lawsuit seeking access to court documents in the Manning case. The lawsuit seeks an order requiring public access to all documents in the court-martial.

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