Bradley Manning’s defense rested yesterday after a short string of witness testimony. Army PFC Manning is on trial for disclosing about 700,000 U.S. military documents to Wikileaks, which brought the government to charge Manning with “aiding the enemy.” Only 10 witnesses testified on Manning’s behalf despite the defense noting that they had over 40 on hand.
The short-lived defense presentation came as a shock to some as it only spanned over the course of three days, whereas the government’s prosecution drew its case over 14 days and called upon 80 witnesses to testify against Manning. Manning did not take the stand during the trial, but did speak during a pre-trial hearing in February where he condemned the “American military’s ‘bloodlust’ and disregard for human life.”
Providing the most resounding piece of defense testimony was Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor and expert of Internet law and policy. The prosecution alleged that Wikileaks was a terrorist-aide organization; however, Benkler argued that it was only after Manning’s 2010 leak did the U.S. government view it as such. He testified that “Wikileaks fits in with the idea of a journalist organization . . . and acknowledged that government-affiliated newspapers . . . celebrated the site.”
Manning’s lead defense attorney, David Coombs, offered an interesting counterpoint to the prosecution’s indictment of Manning aiding the enemy. Though the prosecution provided proof that Osama bin Laden “requested Wikileaks material,” Coombs rebutted by insisting that bin Laden’s “curiosity was piqued by the US government’s own description of Wikileaks as an organisation helpful to America’s enemies. It was the government’s own rhetoric that drew the al-Qaeda chief’s attention to the site.”
The defense could possibly think that it has a strong case against the prosecution by closing its examination after only having 10 witnesses testify, sans Manning. Some think it was a good move for the defense to not have Manning testify in court. Former Navy lawyer Philip Cave agreed with the decision, saying that “There is not much the client could have said other than ‘I didn’t mean for this to end up on Osama’s computer.’”
By establishing the argument that Wikileaks is a legitimate news outlet rather than, what the prosecution calls it, a terrorist aide, they hope to have the “aiding the enemy” charge thrown out by the court. Should the defense convince the court of their argument, it would likely change the tide of the trial as a whole.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.