US soldier hoped huge leak would spark debate: lawyer
Private Bradley Manning was disturbed by what he saw in Iraq and hoped a leak of secret US documents would ignite public debate, his lawyer told his espionage trial Friday.
David Coombs argued in his closing arguments that Manning is no traitor, as military prosecutors have alleged, but "young, naive and good-intentioned."
In giving classified files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, he wanted to shed light on American misdeeds, the defense lawyer told the military court.
"He was hoping to spark worldwide discussion" and was "hoping that things would change based on that information," Coombs said.
As the trial drew to a close, the defense asked the judge to acquit Manning on charges of espionage, computer fraud and "aiding the enemy," arguing that the government had based its case on a "fictional story."
The 25-year-old former intelligence analyst has already admitted to leaking hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables and battlefield intelligence reports to Julian Assange's WikiLeaks.
But he has denied other charges against him, including the most serious count that he knowingly helped Al-Qaeda.
That charge carries a possible life sentence, and rights groups have warned that a guilty verdict could have a chilling effect on government whistleblowers and journalists.
In the prosecution's five-hour closing argument on Thursday, the government portrayed Manning as a reckless "anarchist" who knew Al-Qaeda would see the documents posted online.
But Manning's attorney said his client had said in chat logs that he had seen "awful things" in his intelligence job in Iraq and the reports "belong in the public domain," according to Coombs.
His words show he was "a whistleblower" who cared about his country and wanted Americans and the world to know the truth, the lawyer said, as Manning sat in the court room listening in a dark blue dress uniform.
"He was hoping that if people knew the true casualty figures in Iraq, that people would be alarmed by that," Coombs said.
The defense played a clip from the cockpit video leaked by Manning of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 civilians, including two Reuters news agency employees.
The video shows the Apache opening fire on unarmed men retrieving a wounded Iraqi, with the crew joking about the assault.
"You have to look at this through the eyes of a young man who cares about human life," Coombs said.
The US military has said the crew thought some of the Iraqis were carrying weapons.
And Coombs rejected the prosecution's description of a photograph of Manning smiling after he had begun handing over classified material.
The government said it showed Manning was not troubled but "gleeful" over his document dump.
"Take a look at the photograph. He has a bra on," the defense lawyer said.
Manning had been struggling with his gender and the military's then-prohibition on openly gay troops, according to the defense.
"What you see there is a young man who is cross-dressing. He's smiling maybe because he's able to be himself at that moment."
Manning has pleaded guilty to 10 lesser chargers of federal espionage, computer fraud and wrongful storage of classified information, which could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors are trying to prove 12 additional counts, including theft of US property, exceeding authorized access on a government computer and the "aiding the enemy" charge.
Even if he is acquitted of aiding the enemy, Manning faces a possible sentence of 154 years behind bars.
Meanwhile, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and fellow anti-secrecy activist Daniel Ellsberg were due to give a press conference later Friday to discuss Manning and what they called "Obama's war on whistleblowers and journalists."