POLITICS
06/03/2013 02:29 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2013

Bradley Manning Defense Lawyer Calls Him 'Young, Naive But Good Intentioned' In Opening Statement

FORT MEADE, Md. -- As supporters and a throng of media converged on this military base Monday morning, the prosecution and defense painted two starkly different pictures of Bradley Manning.

The 25-year-old Army private first class faces life in prison for his disclosures to WikiLeaks. Manning has admitted to giving the transparency website hundreds of thousands of files, but at dispute is what motivated him and how harsh a term he could serve as a result.

Manning said little on Monday, affirming simply in a calm, even voice that he wanted to be tried by a judge alone, not a jury. But the attorneys arguing his fate spoke intently on the first day of the trial that has taken more than 1100 days since Manning's arrest in Iraq to begin.

Was Manning a reckless glory hound, or a truth-teller who believed the American public needed to know what was being done in its name? That question hung over the opening statements presented in court to Col. Denise Lind, the judge overseeing the case.

Military prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow spoke first, claiming that Manning knew his leaks "could put the lives and welfare of his fellow soldiers at risk" but went ahead with them "to gain the notoriety he craved."

"The evidence will show that the accused knowingly gave intelligence to the enemy," he said.

Morrow said Manning's work for WikiLeaks started early into his deployment in Iraq, less than two weeks after he arrived at a dusty post east of Baghdad. Contrary to the picture his supporters have painted of a whistleblower responding to disturbing incidents of torture he was exposed to in his own work as an intelligence analyst, Morrow said Manning was looking to make trouble from almost the very beginning.

Manning was so deeply involved in WikiLeaks, Morrow claimed, that he helped edit the "Collateral Murder" video of a US Apache helicopter gunning down two Reuters journalists.

"This is a case about what happens when arrogance meets access to classified information," Morrow said.

But Manning's lead defense attorney, David Coombs, said his client was someone entirely different: "young, naive but good intentioned."

Coombs started with a story: On Christmas Eve 2009, Manning and other intelligence analysts rushed to respond to the report of a roadside bomb targeting an American convoy.

The base was tense as Manning and his fellow soldiers waited to hear what had happened. When news filtered out that no Americans had died, a cry of celebration went up through Forward Operating Base Hammer.

But then came darker news: while the military convoy drove along, an Iraqi family of two adults and three children had pulled over to the side of the road. The explosively formed projectile meant for the US troops killed one of those family members instead.

"Everyone was happy. Everyone but Pfc. Manning," Coombs said. "He couldn't celebrate, couldn't be happy. The reason why is he couldn't forget about a life that was lost that day."

Twenty-two years old and struggling with his gender identity, Manning was more sensitive and more easily affected by what he witnessed in Iraq, Coombs said. His humanist beliefs meant that he wanted to save as many lives, both American and Iraqi, as he could.

"Manning's struggles lead him to feel that he needed to do something, that he needed to do something to make a difference in this world," Coombs said.

Out of hundreds of millions of documents he had access to as an all-source analyst, Coombs said, Manning picked only those files that he thought could help. And he was thinking only about the documents' ability to reveal to the American public what was being done in its name -- not about whether some foreign enemy might sift through them.

Later on Monday, Lind will hear from the two military special agents who first investigated Manning's disclosures, and from his roommate at the Army base east of Iraq where he was posted. The full trial is estimated to last 12 weeks. The government has listed 141 witnesses it may call, and the defense has listed 46 potential witnesses.

Manning's aunt and cousin were in attendance, and at the base's gate a klatch of demonstrators waved signs and shouted in his support.

Also showing his support in person was Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers detailing the failure of the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Ellsberg has steadfastly insisted that Manning is what he was -- a whistleblower.

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