Bradley Manning's Defense Strategy

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World service, PRI, and the WGBH in Boston. Bradley Manning may be sorry for his actions as he said yesterday. The army intelligence analyst will find out next week if that's enough to lessen his sentence. The 25 year old was found guilty last month on 20 counts related to leaking enormous amounts of classified information to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. Yesterday he made a brief statement at his sentencing hearing, and he apologized for any harm done to individuals, and any harm done to the United States. He and his defense team have been trying to explain his actions by presenting the context of his mental state at the time.
Alexa O'Brien is an independent journalist who's been chronicling the Manning. It's been a busy week in the Manning case Alexa, which is now in the sentencing phase. But the highlight yesterday was the short, two minute statement he made. What did he say?

Alexa O'Brien: Well there is actually no harm, so what Bradley Manning apologized was for hurting other people and hurting the United States. And his statement yesterday was actually completely consistent with his statement at the Providence inquiry back in February where he plead to ten lesser included offenses. Back then he said, you know, he, he knew that he had actually probably hurt the U.S. reputation and the Department of Defense's reputation for their inability to sort of handle information securely.
You know, you have to also understand that Bradley Manning is fundamentally a moral character more than a political character. These were acts of conscience. Looking back he said that he could understand how perhaps he lacked the discrimination to understand the true impact and effect of the leaks.

Werman: I mean I can understand he was acting out of conscience back in February when he was condemning the actions of U.S. soldiers overseas and called, referred to the military's bloodlust. I mean, where did you hear the conscience emerging in his statement yesterday?

O'Brien: The fact that he said that he didn't want to hurt anyone. You know, Bradley Manning has always been consistent in his representation of himself in court. Bradley Manning's always been very respectful of the military when he's been testifying, he's spoken very highly of his command. Fundamentally Bradley Manning wants to do the right. He wants to do what fits with his moral compass. And he said yesterday that after reviewing the merits in the sentencing testimony that he definitely felt that, you know, he didn't want to hurt anyone.

Werman: How did he look? How did he sound yesterday?

O'Brien: Bradley Manning is an extraordinary character. You really have to see him in the courtroom. He looked strong, and he's really actually grown up in this court marshal process. He's 25, his jaw is square, he always handles himself with the utmost dignity. He only speaks when he's spoken to, and whenever he speaks he always disarms, even the most aggressive military prosecutors because he's so incredibly earnest.

Werman: We've also heard a lot in the past week about what Manning calls his problem. How would you characterize this problem?

O'Brien: Well what's important to note is that the psychologist and the psychiatrist who came into court to testify about his gender identity issue really actually were used by the defense to actually explain to the court that Bradley Manning had a good faith motive, and also to provide context for why he might have acted as he did. Or perhaps going to his command first, that he had difficulty with his command, he had difficulty in his interpersonal relationships, that he was very isolated, that he didn't have a lot of friends around him because of his complicated history.
So all of those were part of a fabric of helping the judge to understand that this wasn't just simply a decision of somebody who intended to harm the United States. In fact, Bradley Manning didn't want to harm the United States. He didn't want to hurt anybody. He thought he was doing the right thing, and perhaps he lacked some discrimination because of his youth, and maybe being naive or inexperienced, to be able to really actually see the full picture and understand the full effects, as well as be able to engage with other people in a review process before he made his "decision to release the documents."

Werman: So with the mental health issues on the table, was the defense strategy here basically he should never have been sent to a war zone, let alone trusted with sensitive information?

O'Brien: Well, there was certainly a mitigating aspect. You have to understand, Mannings already been convicted of 20 offenses. This is all about mitigating his punishment.

Werman: Right.

O'Brien: How much, how much should he be punished. So that's all putting some mitigating factors on, it's not just Bradley Manning who is part of this situation, it's also the fact that there was a breakdown in his chain of command. That he didn't have a non-commissioned officer in charge that was actually guiding him. That there was really poor information security in general, and the culture, and that he was a young soldier deployed for the first time to a war zone.

Werman: How have his supporters, and there are many of them, how have they responded to his statement and his defense strategy?

O'Brien: It's been mixed. I mean, I think a lot of people feel disappointed or offended that he should have to apologize amongst his supporters. And there are others who are completely behind him and understand the context. I mean one of the great tragedies of the Bradley Manning trial is that on my website is the only copy of the February 28th court session to actually explain that, you know, what he plead to and how he answered the court, and how he took responsibility for the very things he talked about yesterday in court. But of course there's so much misinformation of this trial, and so much hyperbolic kind of coverage, it's very hard to get the sort of, the straight facts with the Bradley Manning case.

Werman: What happens next?

O'Brien: We'll have a sentence probably by Wednesday next week, and we wait on Friday for word if the government's going to bring forth a rebuttal.

Werman: Alexa O'Brien, an independent journalist who's been chronicling the case of PFC Bradley Manning. Thank you very much.

O'Brien: Thank you.