Testimony of witnesses in the pretrial hearing for the Army private accused of history’s biggest leak ended Wednesday morning with a bang and a whimper. Constrained by the decision to allow only two of its 38 unique witnesses to testify, the defense team for Bradley Manning presented its case in little more than half an hour. The gaunt defense contrasted sharply with the government’s parade of 20 witnesses over three days and dramatic finale Tuesday with the testimony of the man who turned Manning in, Adrian Lamo.
On Tuesday afternoon, in the courtroom at Fort Meade where the Army has been conducting the formal investigation to determine whether or not to court-martial Manning, the prosecution called Lamo to testify after several hours of hearing from digital forensics investigators. The erstwhile hacker hero stared directly ahead as he walked toward the stand with discrete, deliberate steps. He appeared tired—a source said he’d been up late the night before and slept long into the morning—and issued formalized responses in his trademark languid, slurring speech.
“... the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?” asked a prosecutor swearing him in.
“That I do,” Lamo said. The lawyer asked him to have a seat.
“That I shall.”
The government asked him a short series of questions about chatting on AOL Instant Messenger with a person believed to be Bradley Manning. As if to preempt an onslaught from the defense, the government finished by asking about his past struggles with drug abuse, his relationship with the media, and any perks he’d received from his testimony.
Manning sat calmly and quietly while the man who betrayed him testified against him. At one point during the testimony, Manning dropped his head into his hands and left it there for several seconds, but he revealed little emotion throughout, except a grin at the conclusion of his attorney’s cross examination of Lamo.
Manning’s lead attorney, David Coombs, launched into a series of questions designed, apparently, to discredit Lamo. Coombs was given wide leeway to question the witness with almost no interruption from the prosecutors. He asked about Lamo’s history as a convicted felon, past drug problems, and if he’d received any perks or promises from the government in exchange for his testimony.
“I have not,” Lamo said.
“You’re here on your own wishes?” said Coombs.
“I am here to ensure that the truth is presented.”
“I appreciate that,” Coombs said, standing at a lectern before the witness box and the presiding officer in the Army combat uniform seated in the judge’s chair.
Coombs handed Lamo a stack of pages and asked him to verify for the court what he held in his hands. The witness thumbed slowly through the stack as minutes passed in the silent courtroom.
“A reasonable person would conclude these logs are communication between myself and a person known as Bradley E. Manning,” Lamo said.
Large segments of the defense’s case—asserting negligence on the part of the Army, unjust conditions of confinement of Manning, and a lack of clear damage done by the leaks—were precluded, along with Coombs’s witnesses.
Coombs sought to show that Lamo went out of his way to elicit a confession from Manning, winning Manning’s trust with offers of protection as a journalist and a minister. Lamo’s responses were circuitous and at times combative. Coombs tone occasionally turned exasperated.
“The offer [of journalistic protection] was neither declined nor accepted,” Lamo insisted.
“Nowhere is there a declining?” Coombs said.
“Neither is there an acceptance,” Lamo said.
“That’s not my question, Mr. Lamo.”
“Mr. Lamo?” interjected the investigating officer overseeing the hearing. “Can you please answer the question?”
“So nowhere is there a declining of protection,” Coombs said.
“That is correct,” Lamo conceded.
Coombs pressed Lamo on having promised the person he was chatting with that “none of this is for print,” despite later turning the chat logs over to Wired magazine, where they eventually appeared in full.
“It wasn’t for print by me,” Lamo said.
“Okay. So you thought Wired wouldn’t do anything with it,” Coombs said as spectators in the room chuckled.
Coombs pressed Lamo on his offer of ministerial guidance—“I’m a journalist and a minister,” Lamo had said in his chats with the young soldier. “You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.” Lamo considers himself ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, a religious sect with a clergy 20 million strong that offers instant ordination online.
“As a minister, you understand that a person might come to you as a formal act of religion or a matter of conscience?” Coombs said. “Do you understand the question?”
Lamo prevaricated while Coombs repeated the question several times. Finally, at the advice of the presiding officer, the attorney broke the question into two parts.
“An individual can come as a formal act of religion, true?”
“Yes, if they are a person of faith,” said Lamo.
“They can come as a matter of conscience?”
“Yes, I imagine that they could.”
Coombs turned from the podium and returned to the defense table in one motion. “Sir, we have no more questions for this witness.” Manning looked up at his lawyer and grinned.
After Lamo left the stand the government briefly recalled two forensic examiners who had testified previously.
The following morning, Wednesday, the defense called its only two witnesses, who testified, primarily, to manifest dysfunction in the Army chain of command and a level of negligence in information security that suggests the secrets Manning allegedly leaked weren’t very highly valued by the Army to begin with.
When asked by the investigating officer if he had any further evidence to present, Coombs said no, noting the long list of witnesses he’d been denied at the outset. Large segments of the defense’s case—asserting negligence on the part of the Army, unjust conditions of confinement of Manning at Quantico Marine Base, and a lack of clear damage done by the leaks—were precluded along with Coombs’s witnesses.
Considering the slenderness of the case the defense was permitted to offer, one expects a robust closing statement from David Coombs including the full gamut of arguments he was denied for most of the hearing. The lead defense attorney is likely to question, as he did in his opening statement, the injury to the United States done by the leaks his client stands accused of carrying out.
For its part, the prosecution will likely do a PowerPoint presentation laying out what appears to be a very strong case connecting Bradley Manning to WikiLeaks. The elephant in the room is whether or not the government can—if it is required to—connect Manning’s alleged leaks to harm.