With the nation anxiously following George Zimmerman's trial with bated breath, Army Private Bradley Manning's case has seemingly fallen to the wayside. This is due, in part, to much of Manning's proceedings being carried out in closed session; with several testimonies involving classified material, officials from the Military District of Washington have estimated that 1/3 of Manning's trial will need to be closed to the public. Despite this, legal experts have touted Manning's trial as "the most important of the year", labeling it "the most significant criminal trial of an official leaker in at least a generation."
Three years after the 25-year-old Oklahoma native was arrested in 2010 for leaking sensitive military information, Manning pleaded guilty to reduced charges on 7 of 8 espionage counts along with 2 computer fraud counts, admitting to having sent over 700,000 war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks. These State Department memos and cables constituted the largest "stash" of secrets in U.S. history, automatically earning Manning no less than 20 years in prison.
Such a sentence, however, will not suffice for the prosecution, led by Major Ashden Fein, who brought 21 charges against Manning, hoping to render a sentence of life without parole. Specifically, Fein's team aimed to prove that Manning provided WikiLeaks with the secrets knowing they would be made available to Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda. That is to say, in order to convict Manning of Violating the Espionage Act as well as Aiding and Abetting the Enemy, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning
knowingly and with
general evil intent provided al-Qaeda with intelligence information. The 'knowingly' element is most key, as the soldier cannot be found guilty if he merely acted "inadvertently, accidentally, or negligently." Manning's interaction with al-Qaeda through third-party WikiLeaks, however, will relieve him of no culpability, as he can be convicted for either direct or indirect contact.
Beginning in a court martial trial on June 3 at Fort Meade near Baltimore, MD, the prosecution called nearly 80 witnesses to provide 14 days of testimony over the course of 5 weeks. During this time, they presented WikiLeak's 'Most Wanted Leaks of 2009' – a list outlining the anti-secrecy organization's most coveted documents, including some that Manning had provided. Alleging a link between the documents sought and those provided, the prosecution argued that Manning entered into a conspiratorial relationship with Juliet Assange and WikiLeaks. No evidence, however, was presented to the court to show that Manning had ever read the list, let alone followed it as a guide.
The prosecution also cited a WikiLeaks tweet from May 2010, requesting as many military email addresses as possible, alleging a link between the tweet and Manning's possession of a list with tens of thousands of military email addresses. Nevertheless, no evidence was presented to the court to show that Manning had ever seen the tweet, let alone provided WikiLeaks with the contact information.
What Manning's defense team will not be able to refute, however, is the prosecution's presentation of evidence that Bin Laden, at the time of his death, possessed Afghanistan battlefield reports provided by Manning – to this much, Manning has admitted. The prosecution further presented a video in which al-Qaeda member Adam Gadahn praises WikiLeak's release of classified information, before resting their case on Tuesday, July 2nd.
Manning's defense team, led by David Coombs, will begin making their case on Monday, July 8. It is speculated that their defense approach will be founded on the argument that Manning was young, well-intentioned, and motivated by his desire "to do something to make a difference in the world."