Military prosecutors in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier on trial for disclosing US government information to WikiLeaks, took their case to a level it had not previously gone: they explicitly questioned Manning’s loyalty to America when he was in the military to suggest that this played some role in his decision to disclose classified information without authorization.
The government had Jihrleah Showman, who served in the military, achieved the specialist rank and was Manning’s supervisor in his unit. Showman was Manning’s “team leader” in April 2009. They would interact daily and, when he drove him places, they would discuss “personal topics.” She also was responsible for counseling him when he acted unprofessionally.
In August 2009, allegedly, she asked him about his motivation for joining the military before deploying in October. He said he joined for “training” and “educational benefits.” She was unsatisfied with this answer because it was an answer every soldier typically gave so she pushed him to consider the question more deeply.
Showman asked him what the flag meant to him and pointed the flag out. She said he responded, the “flag meant nothing to him and he did not consider himself to have allegiance to this country or any people.”
That was all the government put Showman on the stand to say, and the government claimed it was in response to Lauren McNamara’s testimony, where she read statements Manning had made to her when they had chats in 2009 prior to his deployment. It was to raise questions about his motive and that he would not have released information for altruistic reasons as the defense has argued.
The defense objected heavily to Showman taking the stand. She did not memorialize this incident where Manning made a “disloyal” statement. Manning’s defense attorney stated it was “evidence made up by Showman in order to make my client look bad.”
Showman was part of the government’s rebuttal case and Coombs argued Showman was not rebutting McNamara because she had testified about Manning being a humanist and exhibiting care for human life. None of Showman’s testimony would rebut this testimony.
Also, the defense challenged this testimony because it did not come out during the prosecution’s case in the trial.
The judge overruled the defense’s objection, and Showman did take the stand. When it came time for the defense to cross-examine Showman, the defense took a long time exploring her bias against Manning and also the credibility of her story about Manning making a “disloyal” statement.
Coombs told Showman that Manning had said he needed money for college. He wanted to learn more about computers. She had tapped her shoulder with the flag. And Coombs suggested Manning was really saying you cannot have “blind allegiance to the flag” or be an “automaton.” One should have a “duty to all people regardless of their country.”
Showman testified that when she heard what Manning said, “As American and as fellow soldier, I was distraught.” She interpreted it as being “disloyal to America.” However, it was never written up in a counseling form.
Coombs pressed her noting that Manning had a top secret security clearance. He had access to classified information. He was an “all-source analyst.” She was his supervisor. Yet, she did not put it down in writing that he had made “disloyal” remarks.
Had she heard the phrase, “If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen?” Coombs asked. She responded she was sure at one point she had.
Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, according to Showman’s testimony, told Showman “not to write” a counseling statement. It would be “handled by someone else.” Coombs asked if she had ever followed-up on whether it was written. Showman wasn’t sure if Manning’s remarks were ever properly addressed.
Showman also testified she had told Adkins Manning said the “flag meant nothing to him” and he had “no loyalty to this country.” thought Manning was a “possibly a spy.” However, that was also never memorialized in writing.
Asked why she didn’t write up that she thought Manning was a “spy,” Showman contended she “did not have the knowledge,” background or “capability of writing a counseling statement.”
Showman thought Manning was a “spy” because, as she said, “Anyone who is kind of questionable I just kind of feel they should be treated as their actions are questionable.”
She considered being late to formation evidence he was possibly a “spy.” She thought this indicated he “may not be able to handle high stress levels in job of intelligence,” but she was not a doctor so that was just her opinion.
Showman said when she would go to pull him off a “computer task,” he “would appear flustered and not be able to function properly.” This made her think Manning was a “spy” because “it wasn’t normal for someone that should be handling classified information.” This was the feeling she had in her “gut.” It was based off her “having knowledge of what we are to look for with someone who could disseminate information.”
President Barack Obama’s “Insider Threat” program would not have been in place when Showman was in the military in 2009. It was implemented in response to Manning’s disclosures, but what Showman’s testimony suggests is the same things soldiers are to look for as part of the “Insider Threat” program were what soldiers were to look for in their units.
A “Treason 101″ course posted on the Department of Agriculture’s website (and highlighted in coverage of the “Insider Threat” program by Jonathan Landay of McClatchy) advises employees, “You are expected to report potentially significant, factual information that comes to your attention and that raises potential security concerns about a co-worker. You are also strongly encouraged to help co-workers who are having personal problems that may become a security issue if the problems are not addressed.”
There are indicators of “illegal, improper, unreliable or suspicious behavior by a co-worker” that employees must look for, such as: “disgruntlement with one’s employer or the US Government strong enough to make the individual desire revenge,” “any statement that, considering who made the statement and under what circumstances, suggests potential conflicting loyalties that may affect handling of classified or other protected information.”
Stress was also something to monitor, and, if a soldier was having trouble handling stress, that was to be considered an indicator that a soldier might pose a risk to national security.
Showman told Coombs she was to watch for soldiers who had “abnormal outbursts,” were “protective” of their time with classified information. She was to look for “little things that would instantly change in someone’s personality when dealing with classified information.”
In the afternoon, MSGT Adkins took the stand for the first time in the court martial and gave testimony about whether “disloyal” remarks were brought to his attention. He could not recall or remember Showman coming to him to address “disloyal” remarks.
Adkins said he hoped he would remember “disloyal” remarks if a soldier had made them. They would likely result in an investigation that could lead to a suspension of a security clearance because “having access to classified information” and someone who “was disloyal to the country that holds classified information would be considered a security risk.”
He further testified he would have gone to a major in the unit to look at whether Manning should have been deployed and whether information should be forwarded up the chain “to have him not deploy or possibly remove his security clearance or something along those lines.”
What Showman claimed had happened is Adkins had thought the “benefit of the doubt” should given to Manning. He should be helped with his stress and deploy.
This was a fact that Coombs pressed Showman on because if he really felt no loyalty to his country, if the flag meant nothing to him, if he possibly was a spy, why would she want to deploy with him? Wasn’t there more she should have done to prevent him from going to Iraq? Showman contended the decision was made and there was nothing she could do.
Showman also suggested that Manning’s decision to “scrub the internet” including blogs of anything about him before he joined the military so he could get his security clearance. Coombs followed up asking if she had known Manning was gay and this may be reason why he would want to hide his identity, not because he was a “spy.”
Manning had also had a conversation with Adkins and her about “people listening in on his conversations” and how he couldn’t trust anyone in the work environment.
Could this have had anything to do with Manning being gay and in the military? Coombs asked. “I don’t think so. He never spoke about it in the office.”
“And that was because there was a policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?” Coombs said in a follow-up.
In the military, a derogatory statement can be filed if the military thinks a soldier should have his security clearance removed. Showman was asked why one had not been filed for Manning if he made “disloyal” remarks. She admitted one would be filed if someone wasn’t loyal to the country because they “really shouldn’t have a clearance.”
Army CID came to talk to her for the investigation into Manning after his arrest. She told CID Manning would stay late, was a pressure cooker, was normally not hanging around with anybody and had once left a camera in the intelligence facility where he worked. But she apparently never mentioned anything about “anti-American disloyal statements.”
Later in the questioning, Showman claimed she had no opinion of Manning “one way or another.” That was not true.
Clips from the documentary directed by Alex Gibney and released this past May, “We Steal Secrets,” in which she appears, were played in the court.
I was off shift and I had to come in to find something that he should have been able to find, and he was pacing back and forth saying smart comments to me, and I blatantly said: ‘Manning, how about you fix your shit before you try to fix mine?’ And he screamed and punched me in the face, while I was sitting down. My adrenaline immediately hit overload. I stood up, pushed my chair back. He continued to try to fight me but I put him in, you know, what UFC would call ‘guillotine’ and, you know, pulled him on the floor and laid on top of him and pinned his arms, you know, beside his head. At that time, I can’t believe that he’d mess with me. I literally had 15-inch biceps.
And this clip from an interview that did not make the final cut of the documentary (as Matt Sledge of Huffington Post reports the outtake was provided by Gibney to the defense):
Someone who knowingly joins the military, intentionally gets a security clearance because they’ll be able to have access to classified information, completely has a disregard for military regulations, breaks a federal law by taking classified information and not only giving it to an unclassified source but a source that’s not even in America, that’s not a whistleblower. That’s someone who in my opinion has no allegiance to their country. And in my opinion has no desire for the country’s wellbeing, has a desire for outside sources to possibly do damage to this country.
Showman claimed that when she said this for the documentary it was not about Manning. It was about whistleblowers in general. Coombs did not believe her. “I didn’t know whether Manning had done anything like that at that time.”
This is how the trial has devolved. Hours were spent hearing testimony from Showman, Adkins and even SSGT Kyle Balonek on comments that were never memorialized in writing that Showman claims she heard from Manning, which no one can confirm, and how she thought there were signs maybe Manning had been a “spy.”
Obviously, the prosecutors want this all out there to create this idea in the mind of the judge that Manning would aid the enemy. It, however, cannot be proven that Manning said anything “disloyal” or that if he said something “disloyal” his remark even meant what Showman thought when she allegedly heard the remarks.
It is scenes like this that are worthy of being described as Kafkaesque. If it can’t be unequivocally proven, it is very prejudicial to the accused to spend hours presenting testimony to the court that creates this cloud around Manning that, perhaps, he was disloyal to America. Perhaps, he was not a patriot when he deployed to Iraq.