FORT MEADE, Maryland (CNN) — Prosecutors opened their case Monday against Army Pvt. Bradley Manning by saying he had access and incentive to provide information to the enemy, including information later found in Osama bin Laden’s hideout.
The 25-year-old has admitted giving a trove of classified information to WikiLeaks, a group that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information through its website. It published the material in 2010 and 2011. It’s considered the biggest leak in U.S. history.
The case against Manning has stretched out for many months after his arrest and military imprisonment. In February, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him. He faces up to two decades in jail on those charges.
He did not plead guilty to the most serious charge — aiding the United States’ enemies. If convicted on that count, he could go to prison for life.
Capt. Joe Morrow delivered an hourlong opening statement Monday and showed a slide show. He said the government will provide evidence that materials al Qaeda operators had delivered to bin Laden can be traced to Manning’s illicit downloading and transmission to WikiLeaks.
Manning “used his military training to gain the notoriety he craved,” Morrow said.
The first slide in the government’s case was said to be a quote from a message Manning once posted, using the handle “bradass87.”
“If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?” it read.
Prosecutors also said they plan to call forensic experts who recovered chat logs from computers, purported conversations between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, that will allegedly show how they worked together.
The government’s case hopes to convince the military judge that Manning, an intelligence analyst, “systematically harvested 700,000 government documents, and attempted to hide what he was doing.”
Supporters of Pfc. Bradley Manning have adopted the phrase: “I am Bradley Manning.”
But who is Manning? A whistle-blower? Or someone who aided the enemy in the midst of war? One of the country’s most famous leakers, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, says Manning should be viewed as a hero. The Pentagon Papers showed that the government had lied to Congress and the public about the progress of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg provided all 7,000 pages to The New York Times, which published them in 1971.
During the February hearing, Manning spent more than an hour reading a statement that detailed why and how he sent classified material to WikiLeaks.
Manning said he passed on information that “upset” or “disturbed” him but he didn’t give WikiLeaks anything he thought would harm the United States if it were made public.
“I believed if the public was aware of the data, it would start a public debate of the wars,” he told the court.
The U.S. military first detained Manning in May 2010 for leaking a U.S. combat video that showed a U.S. helicopter gunship attack — posted on WikiLeaks — and classified State Department cables.
Manning was turned in by Adrian Lamo, a former hacker. Manning allegedly started instant messaging Lamo, saying that he had accessed documents.
In his statement in February, Manning said he initially contacted The Washington Post and The New York Times to offer information.
He said he either wasn’t taken seriously or got voice mail, so he gave the material to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source of its information.
Protests before the trial
On Saturday, Manning’s supporters rallied outside Fort Meade.
“People came from great distances to stand with a true American hero,” said Jeff Paterson, director of the Bradley Manning Support Network. “From Bradley’s demeanor in court, it’s clear he takes strength from the outpouring of support.”
Manning was formally charged in February 2012.
On the eve of the court-martial, his lawyer, David Coombs, issued a rare public statement through his website.
He thanked those who raised money and awareness over the past three years, bringing “worldwide attention to this important case.”