FORT MEADE, MARYLAND —
Defense attorneys in the court-martial of U.S. Army private Bradley Manning - accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks - have opened their case. Manning's court-martial is in its sixth week.
It is his lawyers' chance to try to convince a panel of military jurors that Bradley Manning is a whistleblower, not a traitor.
The defense opened its case Monday with a combat video leaked by Manning of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed civilians including two employees of the Reuters news agency.
Manning has admitted leaking information. His lawyers want some charges dismissed, arguing Manning was a naïve young man who acted out of an interest to help, not hurt, the United States by exposing what he believed was wrongdoing by U.S. forces in Iraq.
The prosecution rested its case last week, saying Manning committed espionage and aided the enemy. Despite much anticipation, observers note prosecutors did not present evidence showing the material he leaked caused major damage to U.S. national security.
Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, is among a long list of witnesses called by the defense. Davis spoke to VOA earlier.
“Certainly, there's been embarrassment. But there's a big difference in being embarrassed and being harmed and I just haven't seen much evidence of there being any harm. So I think he ought to be held accountable but it ought to be a punishment that fits the crime and not what the government thought the impact was going to be," he said.
More details of the damage Manning may have caused could emerge in the sentencing phase, when the judge weighs the punishment with the amount of harm done.
Manning's leaks appear indiscriminate. They included 700,000 classified documents, diplomatic cables, and government-owned videos of U.S. troops in combat.
That's unlike the case of former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, who released smaller amounts of specific information about U.S. overseas cyber offensive activities as well as domestic surveillance operations.
The two men had some things in common: They were tech-savvy individuals in their 20s who operated in low-level but sensitive positions.
Manning's supporters hope the young private has started a trend.
“I think that the base of support that we've created around and for Bradley Manning might have helped Edward Snowden feel more comfortable leaking or feel it's more important. I think we've created a culture that while the government doesn't like it, we laud whistleblowers and realize their importance," said Nathan Fuller of the Bradley Manning Support Network
The case raises questions of how the U.S. military and intelligence agencies will deal with potential security risks among individuals who, like Manning, show clear signs of emotional troubles or at the very least unease about their assigned missions.
In Monday's testimony, a chief warrant officer who worked with Manning described him as the best and most productive analyst on his team, albeit weak in his ability to assess information.
Manning's trial is due to continue through next month.