In a significant—but not unexpected— blow to his defense, a military judge has ruled that Bradley Manning's attorney may not argue that Manning's motive in releasing documents and the damning video "Collateral Murder" to WikiLeaks was to call attention to US war crimes.
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, has said he would argue that Manning did not knowingly damage US interests, but instead would make a case that Manning was a whistleblower and acted in good faith in releasing the information, including the video documenting the shooting and killing of 11 individuals—including a Reuters photographer and small children—by American troops.
Manning, who on Friday served his 966th day in prison without trial, is scheduled for a June court martial on charges that he allegedly released confidential documents and videos relating to the Afghan and Iraq wars to WikiLeaks. Coombs said the whistleblower argument was key to his defense.
The Guardian reports that Colonel Denise Lind "ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial stage of the court martial, and must be held back until Manning either entered a plea or was found guilty, at which point it could be used in mitigation to lessen the sentence."
Lind also ruled that Coombs may not present evidence that the documents released to WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security.
Coombs will be able to raise that evidence when addressing the specific charge of aiding the enemy, as FiredogLake's Kevin Gosztola points out, "in order to prove he did not know passing information to WikiLeaks would result in 'dealing with the enemy.'"
And The Guardian adds:
Lind's ruling means that some of the most impassioned statements by Manning about why he embarked on the massive transfer of information to WikiLeaks will now not be heard at trial. In the course of a now famous web chat he had with the hacker-turned-informer Adrian Lamo, Manning wrote : "information should be free / it belongs in the public domain / because another state would just take advantage of the information … try and get some edge / if its out in the open … it should be a public good."
Last week, prosecutors said that if Manning had released documents to The New York Times instead of WikiLeaks, they would still charge him with aiding the enemy. Never before has a soldier been jailed for releasing information to the media.
The Los Angeles Times subsequently published an editorial criticizing "the federal government's unprecedented targeting, in recent years, of whistleblowers and those who leak to the press," and calling the charge of aiding the enemy "excessive."