FORT MEADE, Md. -- Soldiers up and down Bradley Manning's chain of command pointed fingers and dodged blame as his defense team on Monday presented a picture of dysfunction at his former base in Iraq.
Manning is the 25-year-old Army private first class who was convicted July 30 on 19 charges for transmitting sensitive documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. As his defense attorneys presented their first day of witnesses in the sentencing phase of his trial, they sought to show that his leaks could be attributed in part to the Army's own poor oversight.
After Manning's leaks were discovered -- not because he was found out by his supervisors, but because he chatted online with a computer hacker -- an Army investigation disciplined 15 people for their failures to stop him. On Monday, Manning's lead defense lawyer, David Coombs, elicited testimony suggesting that his client had been deployed, despite red flags, because of pressure to fill ranks depleted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that his supervisors tolerated a loose security environment in a classified computer room.
The man who commanded Manning's intelligence unit was an "absentee leader," said Capt. Michael Johnson, the collection manager in that same intelligence "shop."
"We would see him maybe once a day. He would just kind of pop his head in, smile at everybody," said Johnson of Maj. Clifford Clausen, who commanded the S2 intelligence wing of Manning's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
In an intel shop reportedly strewn with music CDs and games loaded on Army computers, it was left up to Clausen's deputy, Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, to enforce discipline. But Johnson and other soldiers testified that Adkins -- who had his rank reduced to sergeant first class as a result of Manning's leaks and who did not testify on Monday -- stopped them from seeking appropriate punishment for Manning's emotional outbursts.
Maj. Elijah Dreher, Manning's company commander, said he should have been but was not made aware by Adkins that Manning had reached for a weapon during a counseling session in December 2009. It's the kind of incident, Manning's defense team suggested, that could have stripped Manning of his security clearance.
Dreher had his own problems: After he "was untruthful about property accountability reports," in the words of brigade combat team head Col. David Miller, he was replaced in early 2010.
Before Manning even shipped out, his most immediate supervisor, Spc. Jihrleah Showman, had recommended that he not be deployed to Iraq. On Monday, Miller denied that he'd applied any pressure to his commanders to bring along soldiers despite evidence they should not be deployed overseas.
But Clausen, who also testified, said that before the brigade shipped out, "We were having a problem meeting strength. There was pressure on the whole unit to deploy."
Monday's testimony helps explain one of the lingering mysteries of Manning's case: how a soldier with so many warning signs as to his psychological fitness was allowed to deploy to Iraq, where he would then download hundreds of thousands of sensitive government documents without ever being caught in a classified information room.
Manning had shouted at supervisors before he ever deployed to Iraq. Once he arrived, there were more issues, including an incident in which he punched Showman. In discussion in court on Monday, defense attorney Coombs said that he will seek to introduce testimony about his client's mental health.
That testimony will be used, Coombs said, "not as a mental health defense, and not in any way to lessen Pfc. Manning's decision and why he did what he did, but instead to explain the context, the circumstances surrounding it."
To that end, he will have Capt. David Moulton, an Army doctor who sat on the board that deemed Manning mentally fit for trial, testify about his client's "stressors," including gender identity issues, while deployed.