POLITICS
07/25/2013 01:40 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2013

Bradley Manning Trial's Closing Arguments Are Heard

FORT MEADE, Md. -- After eight weeks of trial, scores of government witnesses and six hours of closing argument, Pfc. Bradley Manning's military prosecutor Capt. Ashden Fein got to his point: the WikiLeaks source deserves what he's got coming.

"He was not a troubled young soul," Fein said. "He was not a whistleblower. He was traitor -- a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy."

As the prosecution of Manning wrapped its closing argument on Thursday, the military's case and strategy came into crystalline focus. The Army is not backing down from from its controversial charge of aiding the enemy -- which critics claim criminalizes journalism -- and is committed to painting Manning as a reckless glory-hound.

The military's theory on the aiding the enemy charge is that by giving WikiLeaks troves of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, as well as classified State Department cables, Manning was also giving them to al Qaeda. As Fein repeated several times, many of those files were found with Osama bin Laden in Pakistan when he was killed.

Fein detailed point by point Manning's training as an all-source intelligence analyst, as well as his access to classified documents warning about WikiLeaks to show that Manning would have been well aware of its potential use for America's enemies.

When Manning gave his information to the public through WikiLeaks, Fein said, "the public included the enemy, and he knew that."

But Fein went beyond laying out an argument of what Manning knew, and tried to sketch a portrait of what Manning thought. Time and time again, Manning's defense attorney has claimed his client was a naive altruist who just wanted to help his country.

Fein, by contrast, pointed to chat logs between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo, where Manning boasted of his leaking exploits. "These are not the words of a humanist, but rather these are the words of an anarchist," Fein said.

And it is not just Manning's own words with which prosecutors hope to doom the WikiLeaks source to life in prison on that aiding the enemy charge. They also want to use one of Manning's own pictures.

At the start of the closing argument, Fein displayed a photo that Manning had taken during the period he was sending hundreds of thousands of files to WikiLeaks. Forensics investigators recovered it from the same digital storage card on which they found thousands of classified battlefield action reports now known as the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs.

In the photo, Manning holds out his camera in front of a mirror, smiling -- in other words, a classic selfie. It's the kind of casual snapshot millions of people like the 25-year-old have probably created. But for Fein, it showed something far more sinister.

"What you see," Fein said, was not the troubled, naive young man Manning's defense team has made him out to be. "This is a gleeful, grinning Pfc. Manning who signed the transmittal letter [to WikiLeaks], 'Have a nice day.'"

The government seemed defensive over testimony from Harvard professor Yochai Benkler, who had testified for the defense that at the time Manning made his leaks, WikiLeaks was widely seen as a reputable journalistic organization. The prosecution tried to dismiss Benkler's testimony as merely "opinion" and "based on bias, misinformation and a flawed methodology."

Although the judge overseeing the case ruled before the trial started that proving Manning's intent when he sent WikiLeaks 700,000 files is irrelevant, Fein threw out a thesaurus full of adjectives to define Manning's mindset: traitor, hacker, anarchist. Anything but whistleblower.

"This suggests the government recognizes on some level the need to win in the court of public opinion as well," Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement.

Nevertheless the disciplined, tight-lipped Army's relationship with public scrutiny has never been an easy one -- a dynamic that was on full display Thursday both in Fein's arguments and in the courtroom itself.

A packed courtroom and a nearly full remote media center were both subjected to increased security measures, including armed military police peering over journalists' shoulders, because of an order from the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, to tighten enforcement of court rules.

Manning defense attorney Coombs, who will present a very different picture of his client, will give his closing statement on Friday. After the closing arguments, the judge will take several days to consider how to rule on the charges against Manning. The 10 lesser charges to which he has already pleaded guilty could, by themselves, lead to a 20-year sentence.

This article has been updated to include more from the prosecution's closing argument.

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