Col. Morris Davis (Sketch by Clark Stoeckley)

The first day of the defense’s case in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning ended with the military judge finding that former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions qualified as an expert on Guantanamo Bay prison detainee policy and information used in the detention of detainees.

Retired Colonel Morris Davis took the stand in the evening.  The government immediately indicated that they would object to the defense’s effort to qualify him as a witness. The defense had to lay a foundation that he had knowledge and experience and could testify on the detainee assessment briefs (DABs) that Manning has confessed to disclosing to WikiLeaks.

As Manning testified on February 28 when he read his statement in military court at Fort Meade, “The DABs were written in standard [Defense Department] memorandum format and addressed the commander of US SOUTHCOM. Each memorandum gave basic and background information about a specific detainee held at some point by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO).”

Manning’s defense attorney, David Coombs, told the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, that if he was qualified as an expert, he would have him testify on his review of the DABs, in which he compared the ones Manning is charged with releasing without authorization to open source information that the government had released into the domain. He also would give his opinion on whether the info could harm the United States.

The judge asked Davis, “If you were to offer an opinion on whether disclosure of DABs would be potentially damaging or useful to the enemy,” on what basis would you be offering that opinion? He replied that it would be the result of taking information and comparing the information with info that was available or published by the government.

She asked if he had read DABs that were charged and he replied, “Yes.” He also said, when asked, the DABs that Manning was charged with releasing were similar to ones that he reviewed when he was a chief prosecutor.

The defense had sought to qualify Davis as a national security expert, but the judge denied that motion, however, that did not mean he could not testify on whether the information in the DABs, if released, would do damage to national security or not. She decided to allow him to do that on cross-examination and his experience would go to the weight of the testimony. (In other words, how seriously she considered what he had to say).

Coombs presented his background for the court in thorough detail and demonstrated that he clearly met the requirements. He was an assistant director of national security for the Congressional Research Service, which is like a think tank for Congress. He is a teacher on national security law at Howard University. He has been an expert commentator on national security issues and appeared on multiple news programs and been published by multiple newspapers.

Davis has given a number of speeches on Guantanamo and other national security issues. He has testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He was requested to advise President Barack Obama’s transition team on Guantanamo policy. He also participated in substantive meetings on Guantanamo detainees and what should be done with individuals who subsequently became a part of a review task force that produced a report on detainees.

The government focused in on the fact that he had not served as an original classification authority (OCA) at any point. That means he had not reviewed any of the DABs for the purposes of classification. He had, however, reviewed the material for the purpose of declassification.

Davis testified that he engaged in a regular effort to declassify material that the defense attorneys could use in military commissions cases. Though he was not an OCA, Davis mentioned he had sat down with the executive order on classified information signed by Obama and tried to make the case for “why it had made no sense for this to be classified.”

“Everything was presumptively classified and getting it back out of that wicket was difficult,” Davis said. Much of it “shouldn’t have been classified to begin with.”

On the DABs themselves, Davis stated they were “so wildly inaccurate they were of no use to us.” The underlying intelligence or law enforcement documents used to draft the DAB was useful. But that was not what Manning released.

Davis’ testimony was not given in court. Only testimony the defense needed to elicit in order to qualify him as an expert was put on record. Also, the defense had its opportunity to challenge his qualification. So, tomorrow Davis will return to the stand to actually testify on the contents of the DABs.