FORT MEADE – The US soldier who admitted handing over a trove of secret documents to WikiLeaks asked a military judge Monday to toss out several charges against him on grounds prosecutors lack evidence.
Bradley Manning’s lawyers urged the court to dismiss four charges, including allegations he violated his access to a military computer, stole government “property,” disclosed email addresses and aided the enemy when he gave classified files to the anti-secrecy website.
The move came as Manning’s attorneys began to present their case, hoping to counter the prosecution’s portrayal of the US Army private as an arrogant traitor who knew the documents could fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
Manning, 25, has admitted to giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 secret military intelligence files and diplomatic cables in the worst leak of classified information in American history.
But he is contesting 21 charges, including the most serious count that he knew he was “aiding the enemy” by funnelling the files to the website.
The defense played a video of a 2007 US helicopter attack in Baghdad that went viral in 2010 after Manning passed on the footage to WikiLeaks, which released the clip under the title “Collateral Murder.”
The disturbing video shows two Apache helicopters blasting away at a group of Iraqi men whom the crew mistakenly believed were carrying weapons.
Two of the dozen people killed in the assault were Iraqis working for the Reuters news agency.
The prosecution rested its case last week but suffered an embarrassing setback after acknowledging the military had lost the contract Manning signed laying out the terms of his access to classified information.
As the trial entered its sixth week, the first defense witness told the court Manning shined as one of the most talented members of an intelligence analysis unit, excelling at “data mining.”
“He was a our best analyst by far when it came to developing products,” said Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Ehresman, who oversaw intelligence assessments produced by Manning and other enlisted soldiers.
Unlike other troops who often needed assignments to be spelled out in explicit detail, Manning “would come up with exactly what you were looking for,” he said.
Ehresman also said there were no rules in Manning’s intelligence unit barring soldiers from running an executable file or program off of a CD.
Manning’s lawyers insist their client did not break any rules governing access to computer databases.
Among the witnesses due to appear this week is retired Colonel Morris Davis, a former prosecutor of terror suspects held at the “War on Terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Davis has since turned into a critic of how the US government prosecutes and detains suspected militants linked to Al-Qaeda.
Another witness due to testify is Lauren McNamara, a civilian who says she chatted with Manning online in 2009.
Defense lawyer David Coombs has described Manning as a “naive” but well-intentioned soldier, who wanted to shed light on US foreign policy abuses and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If convicted of “aiding the enemy,” Manning could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Manning’s case has taken on added importance in the aftermath of another round of bombshell leaks from a former contractor for the National Security Agency.
Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and later to Moscow after handing over documents to the media revealing far-reaching electronic surveillance of phone records and Internet traffic.