Sentencing arguments in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning took place at Fort Meade in Maryland with the government arguing that Manning deserved to be sentenced to sixty years in prison while the defense gave no exact recommendation but asked he be given a sentence that would allow him to still have a life.
David Coombs, Manning’s civilian defense attorney, delivered argument after the prosecutors and said it was “clear” the government is “only interested in punishment.” A recommendation of sixty years could not have taken into account the “individual circumstances of Pfc. Manning or his offenses.”
Coombs proceeded to make an argument that attempted to persuade the judge that this is a soldier that could be rehabilitated and returned to a “productive place” in society.
He asked the judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, to take into account his ability to be restored, do not “rob him of his youth.” Give him the opportunity to have the life he wants, to find love and possibly even have children.
Coombs also acknowledged the government had labeled him a traitor while others had labeled him as a hero. Those are “over-generalizations. They ignore who he is as a person.”
“The court had a year and a half to see the conduct of PFC Manning,” Coombs declared. The court heard from him on multiple occasions. He is a “young man,” a “very intelligent man.” He is a “little geeky at times, but he’s caring. He’s compassionate. He’s respectful.” At the time of the offenses, Coombs said, as he had before, he was young, naive but good-intentioned.
Today, Coombs argued, he “sits three years wiser” after being in confinement for three years. “Some of that confinement, as the court has determined, was unlawful.” He added that showed another aspect of Manning’s character: his resilience.
The defense’s argument was broken down into the following areas: individual facts in the case, the position of trust he had held, the impact based upon his offenses, his acceptance of responsibility, and various sentencing factors he wanted the judge to give proper consideration: the goal of rehabilitation, the interests of society, his emotional health and his humanist belief. Time was also spent deconstructing the government’s argument.
While admitting that how government agencies setup task forces or groups to respond to the leaks were “legitimate impacts,” which Manning had taken accepted responsibility for causing, Coombs maintained the idea that the impact was ongoing or continuing or getting worse as time goes by ignored reality. There certainly were risks. Releasing 700,000 pages of documents, “something Pfc. Manning could not have read in its entirety,” certainly created risks. But nothing was “future-looking” or talked about how the US government would change techniques, tactics or procedures in fights against enemies. The release of “Iraq War Logs” or “Afghanistan War Logs” did not have impact because the US military did not change anything.
Coombs outlined how Manning had accepted responsibility, pled guilty without the benefit of a deal and admitted to conduct that he said he had did. He pled guilty knowing he could go to prison for twenty years. He took the “very first step to what we would say is rehabilitation.”
Absolutely, he argued, the chain of command should be held accountable for how they failed Manning. Non-commissioned officer Master Sgt. Adkins was aware of Manning’s problems. These problems before and after deployment show up in memorandums for the record (MFR) that Adkins wrote. He did not notify superior officers with the authority to take action and help Manning. Yet, he was never moved to a less stressful position in the military and redeployed.
Adkins found him on the floor in a supply room at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Iraq, rocking back and forth. He was found with a knife in front of him. The chair had the words, “I WANT,” etched into the chair. They talked for an hour and Adkins could see he was “definitely distraught,” and yet he was returned to his work station because he said there was “work that needed to be done.” (Later that night, Manning punched Spc. Jihrleah Showman, a supervisor, in the face and subsequently lost his security clearance and was relocated to a job in the supply room.)
He advised the court consider where the United States was at now. The US military was out of Iraq, on its way out of Afghanistan and, according to Coombs, if Obama had his way, Guantanamo Bay prison would be closed. Diplomacy continued. Many countries had forgotten about what was revealed by WikiLeaks and “moved on.”
Coombs said he was a humanist and “cared about human life.” And, “Perhaps, the biggest crime was that he cared about the loss of life that he was seeing and couldn’t ignore it and was struggling.” He was disillusioned with war because he had humanity. He could not believe this was what the US needed to do in Iraq. With the Iraq and Afghanistan War logs, he truly believed that this could end the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and lead to people questioning the need for future wars.
“This is the person the government wants to give sixty years,” Coombs declared. They want to “throw away his life” and have him “spend the rest of his life in jail long after the memory fades from this argument here today.”
“Long after any of this information is classified, the government wants Pfc. Manning rotting in a jail cell.”
Put it into context, the defense said. Forty years ago man first stepped on to the moon. Roe v. Wade was decided. The Vietnam War was just about ending. Nixon was “embattled in Watergate.” One would have to add another twenty years to that to get to how long the government wants Manning to be in prison.
Coombs continued to contextualize Manning’s potential sentence and stated that Manning’s resilience made him a “prime candidate to be rehabilitated, to be restored to a productive place in society.”
He is a “young man capable of being redeemed” and the judge “should not throw this young man out for sixty years.”
Report on the government’s closing argument can be found here.