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Nathan Fuller

Writer & editor for the Bradley Manning Support Network

July 1st, 2013 3:40 PM

Guide to Bradley Manning's trial: arguments, issues, terms

Defense and government arguments, issues in contention, glossary of keywords

This Bradley Manning trial primer summarizes defense and government arguments generally, highlights documents and issues in contention, and previews the schedule ahead. We’ll update as needed and as new developments unfold. Learn more about how to attend the proceedings here. Read our daily reports from the courtroom here.

By Mike McKee, Emma Cape, and Nathan Fuller.


Ft. Meade courtroom, sketched by Debra Van Poolen.

Ft. Meade courtroom, sketched by Debra Van Poolen.

Defense and Government Agree

Even lawyers agree with each other every once in a while. Both the defense and prosecution accept that Manning sent WikiLeaks: 1) the Iraq & Afghan War Logs in early 2010; 2) State Dept. diplomatic cables in the spring of 2010; 3) information on Guantanamo detainees. 

The Prosecution and its Argument

The prosecution team comprises lead attorney Major Ashden Fein, Captain Morrow (tall, very little hair), Capt. Van Elton, Capt. White, and Capt. Angel Overgaard. While Fein is a constant, the others often rotate. Behind them you may notice groups of soldiers in fatigues gophering documents.

The prosecution — referred to as ‘the government’ in the courtroom (while the judge, Col. Denise Lind, is referred to as ‘the court’) — will dominate much of the merits portion of the trial, focusing on guilt or innocence; the defense, meanwhile, will drive the sentencing phase where Judge Lind will consider Manning’s motivations and mitigating circumstances.

According to the government’s case, Manning was driven by a lust for fame, showing up in Iraq in November 2009, already looking forward to exploiting his clearance in order to harvest secrets for WikiLeaks, taking direction from Julian Assange, and releasing closely held documents recklessly and wantonly. Proof of this, they say, can be found in his sharing a video of the Garani/Farah air strike taken from the Central Command computer server just days or weeks after his arrival in Iraq—something the defense denies outright and which evidence has yet to prove.

The Defense and its Argument

Lead attorney David Coombs (the only civilian lawyer at the defense table) has so far demonstrated a thorough, clever and candid approach in the hearings, exuding genuine respect for the court and foregoing smoke and mirrors for a frank, tellin’-it-like-it-is approach. He is assisted by Major Thomas Hurley and Captain Joshua Tooman. The first row in the spectator gallery is reserved for the defense’s various legal and security experts. Unlike the prosecution, which has access to the full resources of the U.S. government, the defense is funded completely by grassroots donations from Manning’s supporters around the world.

Manning, says the defense, is a patriotic, duty-driven (if a bit naive) young man, deeply affected by the realities of war and his Humanist convictions. After a heart-wrenching instance of civilian casualties on Christmas Eve, 2009, Manning struggled with the morality of what he saw in Iraq, eventually coming to the difficult choice to selectively release documents illustrative of the wars in the Middle East and underhanded foreign policy he believed would not jeopardize the safety or mission of his fellow troops. 

He began sharing documents with WikiLeaks in February 2010. 

Items of Contention

During testimony and arguments, you may want to listen especially for mentions of particular issues around which either counsel can gain or lose credibility, such as:

  • The Transmission Date of the Farah-Garani Video to WikiLeaks

  • The Global Address List

  • Direction from WikiLeaks to Send Specific Information

  • Manning’s Understanding of WikiLeaks at Time of Disclosures

  • Manning’s Understanding of Potential Harm of Disclosures

Farah Investigation / Garani Airstrike  files

Although it was never released by their website, Manning admits sending WikiLeaks a video of a May 2009 airstrike in Garani (Farah Province), Afghanistan, which killed between 86-146 civilians. Manning has stated that he shared this video with WikiLeaks in April 2010. He has plead not guilty to the government’s charge that he transmitted an encrypted file of this video as early as November 2009.

While this may seem like a minor detail, the prosecution has been steadfast in pursuing the earlier, November 2009 charge, most likely because it depicts Manning as beginning to “help WikiLeaks” within days of his deployment, rather than as a whistle-blower prompted by a conversion of conscience through the harsh realities of war on the ground.

WikiLeaks publicly tweeted that it was in possession of a copy of the video on January 8, 2010, which the government points to as proof Manning had already shared the document. The defense, meanwhile, counters that WikiLeaks may have obtained a version of the video from another source prior to Manning’s transmission.

Farah Video & Jason Katz

Former Department of Energy worker Jason Katz is one person who was already purported to have had a copy of the Farah video prior to April 2010, according to gov’t informant Adrian Lamo. Computer forensic experts have testified that no connection could be drawn between Katz and Manning after searching their computers and respective correspondence.

Global Address List – Iraq (GAL)

Although there has never been any suggestion that Manning shared this list of some 74,000 military email addresses, the prosecution has emphasized the file’s temporary presence on his computer as proof that Manning was taking direction from WikiLeaks. The connection alleged here hinges on a public tweet from WikiLeaks seeking as many military email addresses as possible—although there’s no evidence that Manning ever saw this tweet himself.

Witnesses have testified to the hardware, staff and maintenance costs involved in maintaining the GAL, while others soon to come will likely testify as to its potential value if sold on the black market. (This goes to the government’s allegation that Manning “stole” the GAL, valued in excess of $1,000, and constituting federal larceny.)

Although Manning had authorized access to this list, the prosecution hopes to demonstrate that he exceeded his access in the course of viewing and downloading the full 74,000 addresses of personnel in Iraq (personnel he was arguably responsible for as an intelligence analyst).

Manning’s Understanding of WikiLeaks and Potential Harm of Disclosures

In order to demonstrate Manning is guilty of some of the more serious charges involving espionage and Aiding the Enemy, the prosecution would like to prove that Manning had specific, clear knowledge that WikiLeaks was a website used explicitly by enemies of the United States to gather intelligence information. They also need to show that Manning acted wantonly by releasing the specific documents he chose to release, despite believing they had potential to genuinely jeopardize national security.

OCAs (Original Classification Authorities)

Additional witnesses we’ll hear testimony from will likely be the officials who classified certain documents Manning released, noting that there was a legitimate need to protect the information for reasons of national security.

Greater Offenses

Federal and otherwise major offenses, to which Manning has pled not guilty…

Aiding the enemy (Article 104 offense) — max: life sentence without parole

“The Government is required to prove actual knowledge by PFC Manning that by giving the intelligence to Wikileaks, that he was actually giving intelligence to the enemy through this indirect means.  The Court has held that PFC Manning cannot violate Article 104 by committing an act inadvertently, accidentally, or negligently that has the effect of aiding the enemy.”  

Espionage Act (793e offense) – in contention: whether Manning had “reason to believe [docs he disclosed] could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation”

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA — 1030 offense) – in contention: whether Manning “knowingly exceeded authorized [computer] access”

Federal larceny (641 offense) – in contention: whether Manning did “steal, purloin, or knowingly convert to his use or the use of another, a record or thing of value [must be worth more than $1,000].

Trial Schedule

Although trial dates are subject to change at any time, we expect the trial to last from June 3 until mid-August, and for events to proceed in the following order:

“Merits phase” (approx. weeks 1-6) during which guilt vs. innocence is determined for all 22 charges.  

-Prosecution argument (~weeks 2-4)

-Defense argument (~weeks 5-6)


“Sentencing phase” (approx. weeks 7-10) during which issues such as motive and actual damage done can be considered as mitigating factors.  The sentence is solely at the discretion of the judge. There are no minimum sentencing requirements of the judge in a military court martial.

-Prosecution argument (~weeks 7-8)

-Defense argument (~weeks 9-10)



CENTCOM: U.S. military Central Command.

CHU: Compartmentalized Housing Unit, residential trailers for soldiers in Iraq.

CIDNE-I / CIDNE-A: databases containing the SigActs of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

D.A.B.s: Detainee assessment briefs, files containing basic biographical information of

             detainees at Guantanamo.

Intel Gap: Intelligence gap, a topic about which there is not yet sufficient information to verify

                facts or a full picture

IntelLink: A search engine used on Sharepoint / classified military servers.

NIPRNet: A military server that is not meant to host classified information.

Sharepoint: A military server used to share information.

SigActs: Significant Activities, incidents written up in daily reports of ground operations.

SIPRNet:  A military server used to store/share classified information.

T-SCIF: Temporary Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, trailers where intelligence

             analysts work in Iraq.

WGet: A computer program allowing users to download files or groups of files more quickly.


Learn more about the case and developments thus far at:

Learn more about how to attend the trial at Ft. Meade here.

Coming from out of town and want to check-in on specifics and last-minute updates? Feel free to contact a Support Network organizer at

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