FORT MEADE – The computer hacker who turned in Bradley Manning said Tuesday the tormented US soldier had never talked about helping Al-Qaeda after he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
On the second day of Manning’s court martial, witness Adrian Lamo agreed with a defense attorney’s portrait of the young soldier as a tortured soul who acted out of a desire to inform the public rather than to aid US foes.
Under cross-examination from defense lawyer David Coombs, Lamo said that a highly emotional Manning was also in the grip of a sexual identity crisis, which made him fear for the young soldier’s life.
Military prosecutors allege that Manning — who admitted to leaking a vast cache of classified information to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks between 2009 and 2010 — directly and knowingly aided Al-Qaeda through his actions.
However Lamo said under questioning on Tuesday that the subject of helping America’s enemies had never arisen during his contacts with Manning.
Lamo engaged in online chats with Manning for six days between May 20 and May 26, 2010, shortly before the soldier was arrested.
Lamo, who answered many questions simply with a “Yes” or a “No”, told the hearing he had contacted police over his contact with Manning because he feared for the soldier’s life.
“No words against the USA? No words that he wanted to help the enemy?” Coombs asked Lamo, who replied “No” to each question.
He agreed with defense suggestions that Manning had been acting out of a sense of civic duty when he decided to leak the cache of secret files, and that Manning had been struggling with gender identity issues.
“He told you about his life, that he was struggling because of his gender identity issue? He told you ‘I made a huge mess?’ He was emotionally fractured?,” Coombs asked Lamo.
“He needed moral and emotional support? He wondered if he didn’t get it he might end up killing himself? Feeling desperate? A broken soul? Honestly scared?”
Lamo said he suspected Manning contacted him because he was a known supporter of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Defense League, and was also a known computer hacker.
Lamo, who was convicted in 2004 of unauthorized access to computers, agreed that it was probably because he had provided information to WikiLeaks that Manning had become interested in him.
Lamo also confirmed Coombs statements that Manning had leaked the hundreds of thousands of frontline incident reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and secret diplomatic cables out of a desire to inform the public.
“He said he wanted to make sure everybody was OK? He cared about people, he cared about human value? He was a humanist?,” Coombs said. “He was bothered that nobody seemed to care … He wanted people to see the truth?”
Lamo also agreed with suggestions that Manning had no interest in trying to sell information to countries such as Russia or China, but instead believed the information “belonged to the public domain.”
Lamo said Manning had admitted having contacts with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who condemned the court martial on Tuesday as a “show trial.”
Assange — who is holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault allegations — described the hearing as “a show of wasteful vengeance; a theatrical warning to people of conscience.”
“This is not justice; never could this be justice. The verdict was ordained long ago,” he wrote on the WikiLeaks site.
Rights activists meanwhile said the case hinged on the prosecution claim that Manning “aided” the enemy by releasing information to WikiLeaks.
“This trial is not about whether Manning leaked the documents to WikiLeaks; he’s already admitted that he did,” said Ben Wizner, head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.
“What’s really being tested is the government’s dangerous theory that leaking information to the press is equivalent to delivering it to the ‘enemy.’”
Manning’s trial at a military base outside Washington DC is expected to last 12 weeks. Some evidence will be given behind closed doors for national security reasons.