David Coombs, the civilian defense attorney representing the U.S. Army private accused of releasing military reports to WikiLeaks in the case US v. Bradley Manning, gave his first public presentation Monday evening to an audience of over 100 supporters at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC.
Monday's support rally gave Coombs the opportunity to criticize the military hierarchy for allowing Pfc. Bradley Manning to be subjected to nine months of a harsh suicide prevention regime against the advice of doctors. "Brad's treatment at Quantico will forever be etched into our nation's history as a disgraceful moment in time," he said.
Last night's event was hosted by the Bradley Manning Support Network, which is raising money for Manning’s legal defense expenses.
Coombs is currently litigating a motion to dismiss the charges against Manning due to illegal and excessive pre-trial punishment conditions, which include months of abusive solitary confinement in the brig at a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.
Reporting on the presentation for the Guardian, Ed Pilkington writes:
Despite his excoriating remarks on Quantico, Coombs painted a generally optimistic picture of Manning's state of mind now and of his hopes for the future. He described the jail facilities at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where Manning was transferred in April 2011 from Quantico, as having "magical waters" that had healed his client.
Asked about Manning's current state of mind, Coombs said: "He is very excited about having his case move forward. He is very encouraged at this point by the way things are going, and confident they will ultimately turn out OK for him."
Coombs recalled one conversation in which he had asked Manning what he wanted to do in future. "He told me his dream would be to go to college, and then into public service and perhaps one day run for public office. I asked him why, and he said: 'I want to make a difference.'"
He went on: "I hope that some day soon Brad can go to college and give back in public service. But he doesn't have to worry about making a difference – he has made a difference."
Coombs spent 12 years in active military duty and is a lieutenant colonel in the reserves. He told the audience that given his extensive experience of military justice he was convinced that a court martial system was more likely than the civilian courts to give Manning a fair trial.
"People are often suspicious that the military judge may be subject to pressure and the the system is built to obtain a certain outcome, but having in the state and federal courts I can tell you the court martial system is by fair the fairest."
Coombs made a stern warning about the first charge facing his client – "aiding the enemy" – a clause of the espionage act that carries a maximum sentence in this case of life in military custody. Speaking generally, he called the charge a "scary proposition" as it held up the threat of prosecution of anybody who passed information to the press even if they had no intention of that information being used by the enemy.
"Right there, you will silence a lot of critics of our government, and that's what makes our government great – that we foster criticism and through it make changes. This is a very serious charge not just for my client but for all of us in America."
Coombs thanked on Manning's behalf the 72,000 people who have written personally to the soldier in custody, and the 14,000 people who have donated to his defense fund. One of those supporters, he said, was Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower from the Vietnam war era, who has spoken out on Manning's behalf.
History had judged Ellsberg very well, Coombs said. "I hope that history will judge PFC Bradley Manning in a similar light."
Coombs' speech was aired on C-SPAN and can be watched on the video below.