Last month, at the
massive Fort Meade army installation, Private First Class Bradley
Manning, who grew in Crescent, OK, finally had his “day in court” –
actually, seven days of a military “Article 32 hearing.”
The outcome of those hearings is that Manning will stand trial for
“aiding the enemy,” among other charges, which could put him in prison
for the rest of his life, and possibly result in a death sentence.
Any resemblance to actual justice or due process in Manning’s Article 32
hearing was purely coincidental.
As most of the world now knows, Manning has been accused of making
thousands of allegedly “secret” military videos, diplomatic cables, and
other documents available to the media outlet, Wikileaks.
Before any evidence had even been presented to a court, Manning had
already been punished beyond the bounds of the U.S. Constitution. He’d
been subjected to months of torturous conditions of confinement,
including sleep deprivation, complete isolation from human contact and
forced nudity, before being transferred to reportedly more humane
conditions in the wake of global outrage.
The evidence we saw presented at the Article 32 hearing does not justify
keeping Private Manning in custody, much less continuing these
proceedings for a formal trial.
The Article 32 hearing is roughly analogous to a “probable cause
hearing” afforded to criminal defendants in civilian courts, but with
significant differences. It is actually an “investigative process,”
where the government is permitted to unveil its purported evidence in
the presence of an Investigative Officer [IO], rather than a judge.
Motions to suppress potentially illegally-seized and questionable
evidence were not heard [unlike civilian cases], essentially allowing
the government to present its version of the case against Manning
undeterred by due process considerations.
The most serious charge against Manning is violation of Article 104 of
the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “Aiding the Enemy,” claiming that
Manning did “knowingly give intelligence to the enemy, through indirect
The identity of the “enemy” was revealed on the last day of the hearing
to be “Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and ‘classified’
Although there are allegations that Manning made secret documents
available to Wikileaks, no one claims that he had any contact whatsoever
with the shadowy “Al Qaeda” bogeymen.
His alleged crime is
merely that he made information that is embarrassing to the U.S.
government available to anyone with Internet access, including the
American people and its enemies.
For this very questionable “crime,” the best the government has been
able to produce is circumstantial evidence, secured via an array of
seemingly illegal tactics, including the use of a highly dubious
government informant, presented before an investigating officer with
blatant conflicts of interest.
The IO presiding over the Article 32, and the man who recommended a full
trial for Manning, is Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, a civilian reservist and
senior prosecutor in the Department of Justice [DOJ].
Citing the obvious conflict of interest in light of the DOJ’s ongoing
investigation of Manning and Wikileaks, and Almanza’s pre-hearing
decisions to exclude nearly all defense witnesses, Manning’s attorney,
Daniel Coombs, made an impassioned motion for his recusal. Almanza
refused the invitation to step down.
Almanza also refused to allow the defense access to the evidence in the
prosecution’s possession, including evidence that could exonerate
Manning, despite longstanding Constitutional requirements to do so.
The testimony actually
provided during the Article 32 hearings suggests more a house of cards
built by the government, rather than a convincing display of any
credible evidence that any harm was done, that any of the warrants
utilized were valid and that evidence was handled properly, or that the
information relied upon is credible.
Some glaring problems with the government’s case include:
Alfred Williamson testified that he forensically examined Manning’s
computer account and that it was last accessed on May 28, 2010.
Manning was in custody on May 27, 2010.
Adrian Lamo – the
government informant who provided information about online chats he
allegedly had with Manning, leading to the original arrest warrant –
is a convicted felon with a history of drug abuse and mental
illness. Lamo had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital on May
7, 2010, just weeks before he became the lynchpin for the government
in this case, contacting military officials after chatting just one
day online with someone named “BradAss87.” In perhaps his most
egregious act, Lamo told “BradAss87” that he was a journalist and a
minister, assuring his new friend that their discussions would
remain private, and that he could treat their conversation as a
confession, coaxing further discussion.
who obtained the original search warrant for Manning’s belongings in
Iraq admitted that she secured the warrant based on information from
a “confidential informant” [Lamo] and from Stars and Stripes
magazine. Riddled with inaccuracies and unfounded assumptions, this
investigator also stated that Manning had been accessing secret
government files for a year, when he had only been in Iraq for six
testified that the computers associated with Manning and the alleged
leaks were not password-protected, and were accessible by many other
soldiers, and therefore computer activity could not be definitively
linked to anyone. One of the machines used to implicate Manning was
in fact a computer he did not commonly use.
Without a warrant,
the military took possession of various computer files stored on
various devices found in Manning’s aunt’s home, months after
Manning’s arrest. These computer files became the key evidence
against Manning, yet for months they allegedly lay scattered in the
basement of his aunt’s home. At this point, Manning had already been
subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement.
The stakes in the Manning affair are enormous for all Americans. Even if
found guilty of releasing information, there is no evidence that any of
the information allegedly sent to Wikileaks affected the national
security of the United States.
To the contrary, the Wikileaks information has been credited with
significant roles in, among other successes, the Tunisian revolution and
the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
Yet it is far from clear that Manning even released the information, and
it is increasingly evident that there is no way to definitively prove
that he did. Meanwhile, this young soldier has been subjected to
unspeakable torture at the hands of the military, serving as a reminder
to all Americans of what will happen if you decide to speak the truth,
or are merely accused of doing so.
Manning should be freed immediately.
The authors are Washington attorneys with experience in civilian
criminal prosecution and prisoner's rights issues, but little exposure
to the military justice system. They sat through much of Manning’s
Article 32 hearing and filed this report for The Observer