Defense to sum up case in court martial of U.S. WikiLeaks soldier

FORT MEADE, Md., July 26 Fri Jul 26, 2013 8:16am EDT

FORT MEADE, Md., July 26 (Reuters) - Lawyers for the U.S. soldier accused of the biggest leak of classified information in the nation's history are due to make their closing remarks in his court-martial on Friday.

Earlier in the case against Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, defense lawyers portrayed the 25-year-old intelligence analyst as well-meaning but naive, intending to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military and diplomatic policy by releasing the documents.

The most serious charge he faces, aiding the enemy, carries a life sentence. He is accused of 21 counts of leaking more than 700,000 documents through the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website.

Prosecutors in closing arguments on Thursday said the short, bespectacled Manning had betrayed the trust his nation put in him when he released documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"Manning had the general evil intent," said Major Ashden Fein, the lead military prosecutor. "He acted voluntarily and deliberately with his disclosures. He was not a whistleblower. He was a traitor."

Closing statements for the prosecution lasted about five hours.

The case has pitted civil liberties groups, which seek increased transparency into the actions of the U.S. military and security apparatus, against the government, which has argued that the low-level intelligence analyst, who was stationed in Baghdad at the time, endangered lives.

The case also illustrates the perils of granting so many people access to classified information, said former CIA officer Joseph Wippl, who is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.

"He leaked information to which at least half a million people had access," Wippl said. "Giving access to that many is like laying a trap for lemmings. It was bound to happen."

Early in the proceedings on Thursday, Army Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the trial, denied a request by the defense to find Manning not guilty of five of the counts related to stealing information from government databases.

She also denied the defense's motion to declare a mistrial.

'AGENCY OF THE PEOPLE'

The WikiLeaks website, which in Manning's case published classified files, combat videos and diplomatic cables, has become controversial both for exposing secret data and for its founder, Julian Assange, who has been staying in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than a year to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.

Fein said Manning's computers showed he had done more than 100 searches related to WikiLeaks, which he called the "first intelligence agency of the people."

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq.

He chose a trial by a military judge, rather than a panel of military jurors.

In February, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including misusing classified information, such as military databases in Iraq and Afghanistan and files pertaining to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

"I believe that if the general public ... had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general," he read from a prepared 35-page statement.

The prosecution maintained that Manning sought fame, not openness.

Fein described a photo he said the soldier took of himself after sending documents to WikiLeaks: "This is a picture of a person who thought he'd finally become famous."

The court-martial has recently been overshadowed to some extent by the case of fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed to Britain's Guardian newspaper early last month the details of alleged secret U.S. surveillance programs tracking Americans' telephone and Internet use.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Von Ahn)

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