Lawyers for a young soldier accused of leaking a trove of secret information to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks said US military prosecutors had withheld hundreds of emails related to his pre-trial detention at a Marine Corps brig.
David Coombs, a lawyer for Private Bradley Manning, argued at a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, that prosecutors had yet to turn over about 700 emails.
But he said the emails he was already aware of painted a portrait of a military more concerned with combating negative publicity than with Manning’s welfare and revealed that top-level officials, including a three-star general, were briefed about the conditions of his confinement.
Prosecutors denied that the military was driven by public relations concerns and said the general had been justifiably anxious about Manning, especially because he was considered a suicide risk at the time. He has since been transferred.
Manning, 24, is accused of providing to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war logs while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. He faces a possible life sentence.
Military prosecutors and defence lawyers have been thrashing out procedural and evidentiary disputes during a continuing pre-trial hearing ahead of a trial scheduled for early next year.
At issue yesterday were nearly 1,400 emails pertaining to Manning’s maximum-security detention at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia.
While there, he was confined to a single-bed cell for 23-hours a day. His clothing was taken from him for several nights until he was issued a suicide-prevention smock.
The conditions mobilised and infuriated Manning supporters, who alleged torture and said he was illegally punished. He has since been relocated to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Mr Coombs said Manning was confined in such a way to prevent anything bad from happening to him, which the military knew would generate a crush of negative publicity.
“The main thing they were concerned about was being portrayed in a negative light,” he said.
He also said a three-star general was briefed in unusual detail about Manning’s stay.
“What he’s being briefed on is not something you would expect a three-star general to be briefed on,” he said, adding, “He’s being briefed on when I call, he’s being briefed on when people (who support Manning) are being turned away at the front gate.”
Ashden Fein, a military prosecutor, said the emails did not support Mr Coombs’ theory or allegations. He said there was nothing unusual about a general being given regular briefings about an individual soldier’s confinement, especially one who was considered a suicide risk.
“A commander being notified of what’s going on (in) his installation is the way the military works,” Mr Fein said.
Mr Coombs also accused prosecutors of allowing the emails to “collect dust” for at least six months despite defence lawyers’ requests to see them. Mr Fein said prosecutors had other pressing priorities.
Last month prosecutors turned over 84 emails related to the Quantico detention and provided an additional 600 or so this week.
Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the hearing, directed prosecutors to provide her with the remaining 700 emails, and she said she would individually review them to determine which ones were relevant and could be disclosed.
The hearing continues today.
Col Lind dealt defence lawyers a blow last month when she largely barred Manning from presenting evidence at his trial that the mountain of classified information he is accused of leaking did little harm to US national security and foreign relations.
WikiLeaks, which has published numerous international diplomatic and military secrets, sees its mission as revealing secret information to the public.