FORT MEADE, Md. — Pfc. Bradley Manning put U.S. military secrets into the hands of Osama bin Laden himself, prosecutors said Monday as the Army intelligence analyst went on trial over the biggest leak of classified material in American history.
Manning’s lawyers countered by arguing that he was a “young, naive but good-intentioned” soldier whose struggle to fit in as a gay man in the military made him feel he “needed to do something to make a difference in this world.”
Manning, 25, has admitted turning over hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, pleading guilty earlier this year to charges that could bring 20 years behind bars. But the military pressed ahead with a court-martial on more serious charges, including aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.
Prosecutors said they will present evidence that bin Laden requested and obtained from another al-Qaida member Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables published by WikiLeaks.
“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the Internet into the hands of the enemy,” prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said.
He said the case is “about what happens when arrogance meets access to sensitive information.”
Wearing his dress blue uniform, the slightly built Manning peered through his small eyeglasses at a slide show of the prosecutor’s hour-long opening statement, watching on a laptop computer at the defense table. The slide show also was projected on three larger screens in the courtroom, which had seats for only about 50 people.
Later, almost motionless, the soldier from Crescent, Okla., sat forward in his chair, looking toward his defense attorney, David Coombs, throughout his 25-minute opening statement.
Coombs said Manning struggled to do the right thing as “a humanist,” a word engraved on his custom-made dog tags. As an analyst in Baghdad, Manning had access to hundreds of millions of documents but selectively leaked material, Coombs said. He mentioned an unclassified video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that mistakenly killed civilians, including a Reuters photographer.
“He believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled,” Coombs said.