FORT MEADE, MARYLAND— The court martial of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who gave hundreds of thousands of secret government files to the WikiLeaks website, began this week in a courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland. Some analysts say Manning is a traitor who endangered American lives, while supporters believe he is a whistleblowing hero.
Prosecutors contend the 25-year-old Army intelligence analyst effectively put U.S. military secrets into the hands of the enemy, including Osama bin Laden. They want to send him to prison for the rest of his life.
But Manning’s lawyers say he was young and naïve, and only wanted to enlighten the public about the harsh reality of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Steven Bucci is a senior foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. He says Manning engaged in espionage and broke the trust of the nation. \
“He took an oath not to violate that trust and he willfully and with disregard for any of the potential implications of what he did, stole information and gave it away to people who were not authorized to have it. That’s called spying in the vernacular," said Bucci.
Manning has admitted turning over hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. He had access to the material and was arrested while serving in Iraq.
It is the largest release of classified information in U.S. history and is the most sensational since publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Morris Davis is a former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay who says he plans to testify in Manning’s defense at the court martial.
He says the prosecution in the Manning case is overzealous.
“I think the government, when it started, thought it was going to be like the trial of the century and I think the impact has not borne that out. So they ought to accept a reasonable resolution and move on," said Davis.
As Manning’s trial opens, a grassroots activist network is supporting him through a Facebook page, Twitter account and website.
Rallies are being held this week in dozens of U.S. cities and at least six foreign countries. Thousands of people have donated more than $1 million for his defense fund.
Anne Wright is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and former diplomat who supports Bradley Manning and his decision to release classified documents.
“And these are particular cables that we need to know because they, many of them identify government malfeasance or even criminal actions being done by government employees that should be exposed to the world," said Wright.
But others say the release of the material threatened to expose valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments.
Steven Bucci of the Heritage Foundation says Manning should be prosecuted.
“So it’s a very important message to send to everyone in the military and to everyone in government service that if you have a security clearance you better play by the rules, and you should. If you don’t want to play by the rules, resign and leave. But you don’t get to try and torpedo the actions from within," he said.
Private Manning could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted. The court martial is expected to last about three months.