Court-Martial of Bradley Manning Begins in Fort Meade

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". The court martial of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning finally started today. Manning was arrested more than three years ago, accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents. The former army intelligence analyst has admitted that he gave the documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Manning faces 20 years in prison for that. The prosecutors also want a conviction on the charge of "aiding the enemy" which carries a possible life sentence. The World's Arun Rath is in Fort Meade, Maryland where the trial got underway today.

Arun Rath: Aiding the enemy is the most serious charge against Manning and to prove that the government has to show that he knew that this information that he was releasing to get into the hands of the enemy, in this case being al-Qaeda. And they're actually finding evidence that Bradley Manning had access to the internal military reports that specifically talked about the threat WikiLeaks posed in terms of the threats to Force Protection, how the enemy did use WikiLeaks for this source of information.

Werman: In other words, the prosecution is charging that Bradley Manning did this deliberately?

Rath: Well, maybe not that he specifically wanted to give this to al-Qaeda, but by releasing it to WikiLeaks he knew that information would get into the hands of the enemy.

Werman: So how did the defense respond to that?

Rath: They say very simply that this is not the case. The prosecution was saying that Bradley Manning was indiscriminate in how he chose to release all of these huge amount of documents. The defense counters that actually no, he was in fact selective. They said that he had access hundreds of millions of documents and selected these ones in particular not to aid the enemy, but to generate a national debate about what was going on in our wars.

Werman: I mean even for Manning supporters though there's a belief that his story is that of a whistle-blower who had access to tons of classified documents and just downloaded the whole mess to a shareable format. That sounds pretty indiscriminate. Will this be a tough case for the defense to prove?

Rath: Well, they're saying that he was selective and specifically chose information he believed could not be used against the US.

Werman: I know this is the first day of the trial, but did you find anything surprising in how the defense and prosecution debated this?

Rath: Well, we knew it was going to be set along these terms of whether he's a whistle-blower or whether or not he should be held to account for the leaks. One of the most interesting though is that there is there is a discrepancy of timelines. The prosecution is alleging that Manning basically started to leak information and started to work with WikiLeaks almost from the moment he got to Iraq. The defense, however, says that it was actually a couple of months into his stay in Iraq which sort of changed his mind and sort of changed him into thinking that he wanted to be a whistle-blower. For the defense it's showing that for Bradley Manning, he did not come in intending to do damage, that he saw things that he thought were terrible in Iraq, he saw how he thought that Iraqi lives were valued much less than American lives, and that was what he saw and there was a change that took place in Bradley Manning and it was not that he had this kind of wicked plan to come in and do this, but that he had a a change of perspective during his deployment that changed everything for him.

Werman: So, Arun, you've been closely on top of the Manning case since it began three years ago, but today, with the start of this trial it seems like you're not the only one interested in what's going on in this trial. What was the scene in Fort Meade and in the courtroom today?

Rath: Well, in terms of the attention, Marco, it has been like night and day. The last time we spoke there were just a handful of people here. Today, there are seventy spaces for reporters in the media center, there are three hundred and fifty applications for those spaces, also a good number of protestors and just citizens who want to see what's going on in the trial. So there is a lot of activity, a lot of people here today.

Werman: The World's Arun Rath at Fort Meade at the trial of Bradley Manning. Thanks for your time.

Rath: Thanks, Marco.