US & Canada

Bradley Manning: Bin Laden and a soldier's 'selfie'

Court sketch of Pte First Class Bradley Manning's "selfie"
Image caption Gloating traitor or naive cross-dresser? The judge's verdict may turn on how she views a "selfie" photograph Manning took before his arrest

The eight-week military trial of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked more than 700,000 secret government documents and diplomatic cables to the Wikileaks website, is coming to a close.

Pte First Class Manning was on his first overseas deployment as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, where he had access to government servers containing classified documents. He admits he shared reams of files with the Wikileaks website between 2009-10, but said he did not intend for them to get into the hands of terror groups, as the government has claimed.

The BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan in Washington DC has followed the trial and takes a look at some of the evidence and charges which came up.

The "selfie" which was shown in court

Pte Manning's character has been central to this trial. Is he a calculated, fame-hungry traitor as the government believes? Or a young, naive and well-intentioned whistleblower?

The prosecution began its closing arguments by showing the court a "selfie" - or self-portrait photograph - Pte Manning had taken.

The image was found on an SD memory card that also contained thousands of the leaked files. In it, he is seen pointing his digital camera into a full-length mirror as he poses.

The prosecution says he is "gleeful and grinning" in the picture, taken at his aunt's house.

"This is a picture of a person who thought he was finally becoming famous with that information on the SD card," said Maj Ashden Fein, acting for the prosecution.

The defence say they cannot understand why the image even counts as evidence. It is simply a photo taken by a soldier on a break from deployment, they argue.

"If you look at that photograph, you see he's wearing make-up," said David Coombs, the civilian lawyer representing Pte Manning.

"Take a look at the photograph. You see the fact that he has a big bra on. And the resolution is not the greatest, but what you see there is a young man who is cross-dressing.

"What you see there is somebody smiling, maybe, and just maybe that person is smiling because he's able to be himself at that moment."

Mr Coombs says Pte Manning's homosexuality meant he often struggled in the US Army, serving at a time when being openly gay was banned. He told the court martial this was one reason Pte Manning felt he "needed to do something to make a difference in this world".

The Bin Laden connection?

Image caption Bin Laden requested Wikileaks material, the prosecution said

The most serious charge Pte Manning faces is that he aided America's enemies.

The prosecution said he was trained in the handling of classified information and knew all too well that in today's internet age, putting a huge cache of documents on the web made them available to al-Qaeda, allowing the militants to review US military secrets.

Maj Fein told the court that when officials raided Osama Bin Laden's compound after his death, they found a letter from Bin Laden to a member of al-Qaeda requesting he collect the state department cables posted to Wikileaks, as well as an attachment containing some of the leaked documents.

Pte Manning admits he leaked the data. But he denies he ever meant for it to get into the hands of the enemy.

His lawyer said he disclosed the information to Wikileaks because he wanted to get it out to the world so people would know what was going on, and "hopefully make a difference".

"He was hoping that if people knew the true casualty figures in Iraq, that people would be alarmed by that," Mr Coombs said.

"He was hoping that, if people read the diplomatic cables, they would be alarmed by what we are saying about other countries, how we are not doing the right thing," the defence lawyer said at the military trial.

The defence argues that Pte Manning cared about the welfare of Americans. Rather than amounting to treason, his actions showed his loyalty to his country, Mr Coombs says. And he lacked the "evil intent" to pass information to America's enemies, he says.

The defence argues that if Pte Manning wanted to help the enemy he would have sold the data directly to them, rather than share it with Wikileaks.

The cost of the leaks - money or journalism?

The prosecution have put a monetary value on the documents Pte Manning released as part of their case charging him with the theft of portions of government databases.

In court the prosecution argued the information had a monetary value to foreign governments seeking such intelligence. They valued the data leaked from an Afghanistan database at $1.3m (£846,519), and data from an Iraq database at $1.9m.

This has been challenged by Pte Manning's legal team.

The defence argues there is a bigger price to pay - the freedom of the press.

The judge refused the defence request to throw out the charge of "aiding the enemy", a count that could carry the death penalty.

Execution has been ruled out as a possible penalty in this case, but to be charged with it the prosecution must show that the leaker published information online knowing it could be accessible to the enemy.

The defence has said that in today's internet age, almost any document shared with a news organisation could eventually be viewed by someone considered to be an enemy of America.

That is not enough to prove someone is a traitor or that the leaker harboured "evil intentions" in making the disclosure, the defence says.

They and Pte Manning's supporters fear that conviction on this count would send out a dangerous message to military whistleblowers, who may become reluctant to leak information in the public interest for fear of execution.

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