The court-martial of Private First Class Bradley Manning has begun in Fort Meade, Maryland, where prosecutors have claimed that the rogue soldier's leaks to WikiLeaks amount to "aiding the enemy," a charge that can carry the death penalty.
"This, your honor, this is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the internet into the hands of the enemy," said prosecuting officer Captain Joe Morrow, the BBC reports.
Morrow portrayed Manning as a soldier who craved notoriety, and said his conduct in leaking the files showed what happens when "arrogance meets access." He said the prosecution would show that the materials Manning passed to WikiLeaks were used directly by al-Qaida to put US lives at risk.
Manning's defense lawyer David Coombes argued that the soldier was "young, naive and good-intentioned" when he went out to Iraq, but the scale of Iraqi deaths in the conflict and the attitude of his fellow soldiers caused him to think again about his country's involvement in the conflict.
A turning point for Manning came in Christmas 2009 when the intelligence team he worked in was trying to find out the effects of a roadside bomb on an American convoy. The convoy was unharmed, but a carload of locals who had pulled over to let it past was destroyed. Afterwards he began collecting the information to "make the world a better place."
"He believed this information showed how we value human life," Coombs said. "He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled."
But the defense said that Manning didn't release all the information he retrieved and was selective in what he leaked so as to avoid causing harm to military personnel. WikiLeaks also worked with national media to ensure that sensitive details were not released.
The government is charging that by broadcasting the information online, Manning is guilty of "aiding the enemy" under Article 104 of the US Uniform Code of Military Justice. Similar arguments were made in the recent seizure of journalist's phone records by the Obama government.
Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges, which could get him 20 years in military prison, but faces life without parole and a possible death sentence if found guilty on all counts. He will receive a 112-day discount on any sentence to make up for being "illegally punished" after being held for nearly 1,000 days in solitary confinement before his trial.
Judge Colonel Denise Lind said that the trial is expected to last for some time, and that over 100 prosecuting witnesses will be called – with Manning allowed one: William Leonard of the National Archives and Records Administration. ®