Accused Leaker to Fight Charges

As Bradley Manning, accused of spilling the Afghan war logs to WikiLeaks, hires a lawyer and prepares to fight government charges, Philip Shenon shares new details about his predicament—including an expected $100,000 legal bill.

08.30.10 5:03 PM ET

Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks leaker, is about to come out fighting.

A spokesman for Manning’s legal defense fund tells The Daily Beast that the 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist has finally chosen a civilian lawyer to represent him against charges he illegally provided a huge library of classified military documents and videos to WikiLeaks earlier this year.

“My understanding is that Manning’s appointed military defense attorneys were trying to pressure him into taking a deal, but he wasn’t interested,” said Jeff Paterson.

After weeks of public silence, the spokesman said, Manning is determined to fight criminal charges that could send him to prison for decades.

“My understanding is that Manning’s appointed military defense attorneys were trying to pressure him into taking a deal, but he wasn’t interested,” said Jeff Paterson, project director of Courage to Resist, a California-based war-resisters group that has been working with WikiLeaks to raise money for Manning’s defense.

“Our expectation is that he’s going to fight the charges,” Paterson said.

A Defense Department spokesman had no immediate comment Monday on Manning’s defense plans. Manning’s military lawyers in Iraq have declined repeated requests for interviews.

Courage to Resist, which is being actively supported by the filmmaker Michael Moore in organizing the legal defense fund, says that it has raised about $50,000 for Manning, an amount that it expects WikiLeaks roughly to match.

Paterson confirmed a report in the Associated Press that the civilian defense lawyer is David Coombs of Providence, Rhode Island. Coombs is best known for defending Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, charged in a deadly 2003 attack on fellow U.S. military members in Kuwait. Akbar is awaiting execution for murdering two officers.

Paterson said Coombs had already talked with Manning by telephone, and that the lawyer will oversee a defense team that will also include uniformed military counsel.

Paterson said that Manning has also begun to receive visitors, including a close friend from Boston who met with the young soldier last weekend at the brig at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, where Manning has been held for the last several weeks. According to Paterson, the friend found Manning in reasonably good spirits.

“We got a sense that he was actually in pretty good physical and mental condition, considering the fact that he’s facing decades in prison,” Paterson said.

Manning’s state of mind and his plans for defending himself against the criminal charges have been a mystery since his arrest in June in Iraq on suspicion of leaking the material to WikiLeaks. He was held for several weeks in Kuwait before his transfer late last month to Quantico.

Manning is suspected of leaking a huge library of material to WikiLeaks earlier this year, including 90,000 classified military reports from the war on Afghanistan that began appearing on the WikiLeaks website in July.

The disclosure of the Afghanistan reports prompted a fierce response from the Pentagon, which has charged that the leaks have endangered the lives of American soldiers and their Afghan contacts. The Defense Department has demanded that WikiLeaks publish no more of the material and return all of the raw data to the Pentagon, a demand that WikiLeaks instantly rebuffed.

Paterson said that his group expected Manning’s total legal bill to come to about $100,000 and that his group was continuing to raise money through its website on his behalf (since Manning will be brought to trial in a military court, the Pentagon will cover many of the costs of his case). The initial $50,000 was raised from more than 800 donors, most of them first-time contributors to Courage to Resist. The site is also selling a range of “Free Bradley Manning” paraphernalia, from T-shirts to buttons to posters.

The move by Courage to Resist to find a lawyer for Manning followed initial fruitless efforts by WikiLeaks to provide the suspect with civilian counsel.

Paterson said his group expected Manning to face a difficult challenge in defending himself—a task made more treacherous because Manning reportedly confessed his leaking in Internet chat with a former computer hacker who has turned the chat logs over to the FBI and the Pentagon.

Still, Paterson said, Manning should be able to mount a strong defense.

“It’s one thing to say that a 22-year-old Army private first class could do all this, and it’s another thing to prove it—and to prove that it really did any damage,” Paterson said. “I think there are going to be details about this case that are going to surprise people. It’s not going to be the open-and-shut case that the government has portrayed it to be.”

Philip Shenon is an investigative reporter and bestselling author, based in Washington D.C. Almost all of his career was spent at The New York Times, where he was a reporter from 1981 until 2008. He left the paper in May 2008, a few weeks after his first book, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, hit the bestsellers lists of both The New York Times and The Washington Post. The book, a behind-the-scenes history of the 9/11 Commission, was hailed by reviewers as “mesmerizing” (The New York Times), “stunning” and “spellbinding” ( Publishers Weekly) and a “rich slice of investigative journalism” (The Observer, London).