David Coombs, Manning’s defense lawyer, opened with an account of an incident that occurred in Iraq on December 24, 2009. An American military convoy was moving through and a vehicle with five civilians moved to the side of the road to get out of the way.
A roadside bomb went off and missed the convoy but injured all five civilians in the car. One civilian died en route to the hospital.
Soldiers in the intelligence facility at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Iraq, where Manning was stationed watched as the convoy escaped. The soldiers were elated and celebrated the fact that no American soldiers had died. Manning, however, did not because, “he couldn’t celebrate.”
“He couldn’t forget about the life that was lost on that day,” declared Coombs. “He couldn’t forget about the family that lost on that Christmas Eve.”
Coombs described Manning as “not the typical soldier.” He had custom dog tags that said on the back “Humanist,” a “religious belief he ascribed to and those values are placing humans first, placing value on human life.”
Manning wanted to give the best possible information to his command and save lives. He had a strong desire to help his unit and hoped every soldier would come home safely. But, after the Christmas Eve incident, he could “no longer read” military incident reports from Iraq or human intelligence reports and “not think about that family on Christmas Eve, who just pulled over to let the convoy go by.”
Coombs said Manning struggled not only with his obligation and duty to people but also with an internal struggle. This led him to decide he “needed to do something to make a difference in the world. He needed to do something to help improve what he was seeing .”
He began to select info that he believed “the public should hear and should see.” As Coombs said, “If public,” it would “make the world a better place.” And he specifically selected documents he believed could not be used “against the United States” and “could not be used” to the advantage of a foreign nation.
Coombs went through the various sets of information Manning is charged with disclosing to WikiLeaks.
With regards to the Iraq War Logs, he had dealt with these from the time he got to Fort Drum and on a daily basis in Iraq. They were written for any engagement with the enemy or anything that led to the death or injury of civilians.
These were “really essentially a diary of the day-to-day activity that was happening,” Coombs stated. And Manning thought the “American people should know what is happening on a day-to-day basis.”
In terms of the “Collateral Murder” video, he knew specific information, that a supervisor, Spc. Jirhleah Showman was the first to find this video. She found it in an archive and pulled the video for soldiers in the facility to talk about the “ethical implications of what they were seeing and hearing.”
“When he decided to release this information, he believed this information showed how we value human life. He was troubled by it and he believed if the American public saw it they too would be troubled by it and maybe things might change,” Coombs argued.
Manning had access to “literally hundreds of millions of documents as an all-source analyst and these were the documents he released. And he released these documents because he was hoping to make the world a better place.”
He was 22 years-old. Coombs said Manning was “naïve to think that the information he selected could actually make a difference but he had good intentions.”
Information was not selected because he viewed “some 2009 ‘Most Wanted’ list” posted by WikiLeaks. He selected information because it needed to be made public. He concentrated on what the public would think about the information and had no actual knowledge the enemy would get access to the information.