For the first time Wednesday, the military released a sizable portion of court documents in the pre-trial proceedings for Army private turned WikiLeaks informant Bryan Manning.
Approximately 84 rulings by judge Col. Denise Lind were declassified by the Pentagon and made available online to the public. Though the media and public have been permitted to attend all the pre-trial hearings, the only other court documents released by the military have been a few heavily redacted statements by defense attorney David Coombs.
The Pentagon’s refusal to release unredacted documents has been a source of media outrage since Manning was arraigned on Feb. 23, 2012, and has prompted more than 47 news organizations — including The Washington Post, New York Times, CBS and NBC — to sign a legal petition begun by the Center for Constitutional Rights calling for more media access.
The 84 documents released Wednesday were but a small fraction of the paperwork generated by the pre-trial. In an article Wednesday, The Guardian reported that some “500 documents, stretching to 30,000 pages” remain classified and any future releases will likely be delayed.
Manning is charged with stealing public property or records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud. Additionally, prosecutors claim Manning’s illegal declassification may have helped al-Qaida operatives and have added one charge of aiding the enemy — a crime punishable by death in the U.S.
Manning was arrested in June 2010 after allegedly downloading and sending more than 500,000 Army documents to WikiLeaks — a large, online, nonprofit organization that publishes classified or otherwise restricted documents from anonymous sources around the world.
As a computer specialist for the U.S. Army stationed near Baghdad, Manning had been given sufficient security clearance to have access to the files.
Among these documents were videos of 2007 US airstrikes in Baghdad, one of which depicted American soldiers in an Apache helicopter firing at a group of men, killing eight. Among those eight dead, and in the following airstrikes, two bodies were later identified as war correspondents for Reuters: Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, whose cameras were mistaken for weapons.
The videos were withheld by the Pentagon until Manning dispatched them to WikiLeaks in January 2010. Manning is also suspected of leaking sensitive files concerning inmates in Guantanamo Bay.
A Navy SEAL — who possibly assisted of the team responsible for killing Osama bin Laden — may testify against Manning. The SEAL’s testimony could help determine if al-Qaida directly benefited from the documents Manning posted to WikiLeaks.
The SEAL was apparently in Pakistan when the documents were leaked — he was described by The Guardian as “the operator who actually collected the evidence in Abbottabad and handed it to an FBI agent in Afghanistan.”
Manning reportedly became involved with WikiLeaks in early 2012, when he posted the documents downloaded from the Army’s database. WikiLeaks has also released documents which have revealed political and financial scandals in Peru and Iceland, and has threatened to release financial documents displaying corruption by numerous banks around the world.
Recently, WikiLeaks has reportedly suffered from insufficient funding and internal conflict between its two executives, founder Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg.