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AP investigation | Child sex abusers form largest category of inmates in military prisons

As a U.S. Marine, Daniel E. DeSmit swore to live by a code of honor. Semper fidelis, always faithful. But DeSmit shattered that pledge repeatedly — directing dozens of live Internet videos of children having sex with each other.

DeSmit, a chief warrant officer and father of three, spent at least $36,000 viewing and producing child pornography over a span of six years. In emails examined by Navy criminal investigators, DeSmit described his preference for sex with prepubescent girls as “the best experience.”

A military judge in January found DeSmit, 44, guilty of a litany of sex offenses and sentenced him to 144 years behind bars. But he’ll serve just a fraction of that time. In an undisclosed pretrial agreement, the Marine Corps slashed his prison term to 20 years. When The Associated Press asked for the investigative report in DeSmit’s case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service rejected the Freedom of Information Act request on privacy grounds. The report was released only after AP appealed.

DeSmit’s crimes are not all that uncommon. Neither is the misleading prison sentence.

An AP investigation found the single largest category of inmates in military prisons to be child sex offenders. Yet a full accounting of their crimes and how much time they actually spend behind bars is shielded by an opaque system of justice.

Child sex assaults committed by service members have received scant attention in Washington, where Congress and the Defense Department have focused primarily on preventing and prosecuting adult-on-adult crimes. And those steps were belated. Despite years of warning signs that adult sexual assault in the ranks was a persistent problem, it took a documentary film about the situation to shock lawmakers and military leaders into action.

Of the 1,233 inmates confined in the military’s prison network, 61 percent were convicted of sex crimes, according to the AP’s analysis of the latest available data, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. In just over half of those cases, the victims were children.

Since the beginning of this year, children were the victims in 133 out of 301 sex crime convictions against service members — including charges ranging from rape to distributing child pornography.

“This disturbing report exposes, once again, that our military’s justice system has glaring and unacceptable failures,” Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said Wednesday of AP’s investigation. Tsongas, co-chair of the congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said she will be taking a closer look at what she described as “alarming findings.”

The military justice system operates independently of state and federal criminal courts. The U.S. Constitution mandates a presumption of openness in civilian courts — trials are open to the public, as are court filings, including motions and transcripts, with exceptions for documents that have been sealed. Anyone can walk into any county or U.S. courthouse and ask to read a case file without providing a reason beyond curiosity. That openness is designed to provide accountability.

But visibility in connection with military trials is minimal. While brief trial results are now made public, court records and other documents are released only after many FOIA requests, appeals and fees, and often months of waiting. While military trials are technically “open,” as are civilian trials, they take place on military bases, which are closed to the general public.

Over the past five months, AP has filed 17 separate requests under the FOIA for documents from more than 200 military sexual assault cases that ended with convictions. At the time this story was published, the military services had provided complete trial records for five cases and partial records for more than 70 others.

Under military law, children are defined as “any person who has not attained the age of 16 years.” Victims aged 16 and 17 are counted as adults, which is consistent with age-of-consent laws in most states.

Data on sex crimes committed by civilians is not comparable to the conviction and confinement figures maintained by the Pentagon. But a 2013 study of child maltreatment by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and Pentagon data indicate incidents of child sexual abuse are higher in the general population than among military families.

Asked why the biggest group of military inmates is behind bars for sex crimes against kids, Defense Department officials said judges and juries view these crimes as intolerable and are more likely to impose harsher prison terms. Adult sexual assault cases can be more ambiguous, particularly if alcohol is involved, and punishments can vary. They also said military prosecutors pursue verdicts in cases their civilian counterparts would never take to court, and the confinement numbers reflect that commitment.

Air Force Col. Chuck Killion, director of the Air Force judiciary, said that since 2008 the Air Force has secured convictions in 199 out of 223 child sexual assault cases — an 89 percent rate.

“It’s not as if there are child sex crimes being swept under the rug somewhere,” Killion said. “We simply don’t do that.”

BEHIND AN OPAQUE LEGAL SYSTEM: SHOCKING CHILD ABUSE

While child sex crimes may not be swept under the rug, the Defense Department does not make it easy for the public to learn about them.

After DeSmit’s conviction in January, the Marine Corps summed up the case in two sentences.

“At a General Court-Martial at Okinawa, Japan, Chief Warrant Officer 4 D. E. DeSmit was convicted by a military judge alone of conspiracy to commit sexual assault and rape of children, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, sexual abuse of a child and possession of child pornography. The military judge sentenced the accused to 144 years of confinement, a reprimand and dismissal,” a summary of the court-martial released by the Marine Corps read.

And that’s all the service would have said publicly, had the AP not pressed for more.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service initially said releasing its 198-page investigative report on DeSmit would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The AP appealed the denial, and the Navy judge advocate general’s office overruled NCIS, declaring the agency’s decision overly broad and instructing it to release all material within the report not exempted from disclosure. NCIS investigations, which include evidence from the crime scene and witness interviews, are not court documents but are used by military leaders to decide what action to take against a service member.

NCIS blacked out all the names in the report, including DeSmit’s. The AP identified him by the dates and events left in the document.

The effect of the policy is an enhanced degree of privacy for convicted service members not available to civilian defendants. Most records from criminal cases in state and federal courts are public, although the privacy of the victims of violent crime is protected.

DeSmit bragged about having sex with 8- and 9-year-old girls while on vacation in Thailand. He was emailing and chatting online with a Filipino woman, Eileen Ontong, who’d supplied him with child pornography for the past six or seven years, records show. He was planning a similar two-week vacation to the Philippines.

In these online chats, DeSmit told Ontong what he wanted from the prepubescent girls she would provide him when he visited. He described his preferred ages and body types.

“No chubby for me,” DeSmit wrote. “And no really skinny for me.” Ontong assured him a particular girl he’d requested was on a diet in preparation for his visit.

DeSmit was concerned about what sex acts these children would perform with him when he visited, according to the records. DeSmit said he wanted Ontong to ensure that he had sex every day.

“It has to happen,” he wrote.

DeSmit joined the Marine Corps in 1991. He is from Kalamazoo, Michigan, has been married twice and has three children. He was stationed in California, North Carolina, Virginia, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Japan.

The investigation into DeSmit began in December 2012 when a civilian Navy employee was caught with thousands of sexually explicit images and videos of children. Investigators tracked his payments through a Western Union account to Ontong. She was considered the “queen” of child pornography in Cordova, a poor fishing town in the central Philippines.

It wasn’t long before investigators learned DeSmit was the biggest single customer of Ontong’s operation, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case. The official, who confirmed DeSmit’s role and other aspects of the case, was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

DeSmit “directed” about 80 live videos, asking for certain children by name and instructing them what to do. In one video, two children were asked to kiss each other on the mouth and breasts, according to the case file. DeSmit told investigators he would masturbate while watching these videos. One child said she was paid $3.41 per show.

Ontong was arrested in May 2013, and her trial in the Philippines is ongoing. The National Bureau of Investigation — the Philippines’ counterpart to the FBI — said there were about 30 victims altogether, and a few were as young as 3.

One of the victims was ordered to participate by her mother. “I was shy and nervous,” the victim said in a sworn police statement. “I hesitated to follow the instructions of my mother but my mother would remind me that I should do it to pay our debts.”

DeSmit eventually canceled his trip to the Philippines.

Officials said his crimes discredited the Marine Corps. “No one expects Marines to engage in this type of conduct. It degrades our standards and the public’s perception of our service,” one of the court records said. “Our foreign allies would lose respect for our service upon learning that one of our most experienced officers was involved in this type of conduct while deployed on their soil in furtherance of U.S. policy.”

PUNISHMENTS NOT WHAT THEY SEEM

The most significant detail missing from the Marine Corps’ brief public summary was the pretrial agreement limiting DeSmit’s prison time to 20 years, not 144 as the service initially said. He pleaded guilty to 18 counts, including conspiracy to commit rape of a child.

He’ll do even less time if he is eventually paroled. In the military justice system, DeSmit could be released from prison after serving one-third of his term.

In federal courts, judges have the final say in determining the length of a sentence. Parole wouldn’t be an option either. It was eliminated for federal defendants convicted of crimes after 1987.

Both the military and civilian court systems make use of plea deals before cases go to trial. Defendants gamble that a guilty plea will lead to a lesser sentence than they might get from a judge or jury. But military judges are not allowed to review the pretrial agreement before sentencing, and their decisions are not binding. The defendant always gets the lesser sentence.

In civilian courts, by contrast, the judge is privy to terms of any pretrial agreement, called a plea bargain, and has the final say. A judge could decide the agreed-upon sentence is too lenient and impose a different one.

DeSmit is one of dozens of sex offenders who have received pretrial deals, according to AP’s analysis of the summarized results of courts-martial released monthly by three of the four military services — the Air Force does not disclose the existence of pretrial agreements in its summaries. Since the beginning of July alone, 31 soldiers, sailors and Marines were convicted of sex crimes against children. In 20 cases, there were pretrial agreements.

Before July, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps didn’t mention the plea deals. And as DeSmit’s case demonstrates, the omissions can dramatically misrepresent the actual prison sentence.

At Parris Island, South Carolina, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Ike V. Chisholm was convicted in April of raping and sexually abusing a child, according to the court-martial summary. Chisholm was sentenced to 30 years confinement, the summary said.

But under the terms of a pretrial deal not mentioned, Chisholm’s confinement is limited to 10 years. The Marine Corps disclosed the agreement in a response to questions from the AP, which learned of Chisholm’s reduced sentence through his attorney.

Army Spc. David L. Benitez pleaded guilty in July to sexual assault of a child and his prison term was reduced by 15 years — from 25 to 10. Navy Seaman Apprentice David Olson got three years behind bars instead of nine after he pleaded guilty in September to sexual abuse of a child and unlawful entry.

Before 2013, the services didn’t even publish trial outcomes in a centralized way. The Navy was the first to make the monthly results available, a move it said would lead to greater transparency.

However, there is no uniform method for releasing the summaries, which provide the names of the convicted, the dates of conviction, lengths of sentences and a brief description of the crimes. The Army publishes only three months of trial results at a time. When the September results were posted, the June results were removed and were no longer accessible online.

Documents from court-martial proceedings, such as the charges, courtroom transcripts and pretrial agreements, are available only through the FOIA, a potentially time-consuming process with no assurances the requested documents will be released.

Conversely, records from most federal court cases are available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, known as PACER. The military does not have a comparable repository.

“I can sit at my computer in New Haven and find out what was filed five minutes ago in a case in federal district court in Seattle,” said Eugene Fidell, a former Coast Guard judge advocate who teaches military justice at Yale Law School and is a practicing attorney. “But to get copies of motions filed last week in a general court-martial at Fort Lewis would take months if not years, while the Freedom of Information Act wheels ground along.”

In October, a military appeals court denied Fidell’s request to make public key documents from the case of one his clients, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his post in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban.

Transparency, Fidell said, is crucial in democratic societies to ensure the public has confidence in the administration of justice — regardless of whether it’s a civilian or military court.

“Keeping transparency at a minimum sends a signal that these cases are nobody’s business,” he said.

The case of Army Pvt. Jameson T. Hazelbower, convicted of sexually abusing children, illustrates that point.

Hazelbower went AWOL from his Army unit in Kentucky while he was a suspect in two separate investigations of sexual abuse of minors. The military’s warrant for his arrest called him a violent sexual predator and an escape risk.

When local police arrested Hazelbower last year in Winnebago, Illinois, he was in his car with a girl, barely 14, according to the Winnebago County sheriff’s office. Authorities quickly discovered he was also pursuing another teenage girl. Hazelbower pleaded guilty in the civilian system to aggravated criminal sexual abuse and indecent solicitation of a child, both felonies, and received 30 months of probation.

Illinois authorities then returned Hazelbower to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was convicted in May of child rape, possession of child pornography, sexual abuse of a child and other charges. For those crimes, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Six months later, the details of Hazelbower’s court-martial are being withheld from the public. That’s because even after a military judge or jury renders its verdict, the sentence must be approved by a senior military officer. During that period, no records from the trial are permitted to be released, said Valerie Florez, the freedom of information and privacy officer at Fort Campbell.

The withholding of Hazelbower’s trial records amounts to an embargo of information about a criminal case long after it has been adjudicated. And even then, the release of records is governed by a slow-moving review process.

Lawyers also struggle to get records. Russell Butler, a civilian attorney and executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, recalled a case in which he represented the victim of a crime committed by a service member. The military prosecutors and defense counsel objected to Butler receiving court orders, motions and pleadings. He got the material only after he convinced the judge there is no military exception to the First Amendment’s right of access to criminal court documents.

“The military’s practice of denying timely access to court-martial records is repugnant to the United States Constitution,” Butler said.

LIMITS OF OVERSIGHT

In the past, it has been the voices of victims that have changed the way the Defense Department investigates and prosecutes sex crimes.

Media reports triggered a Pentagon investigation that determined 83 women were sexually assaulted at a 1991 gathering of Navy aviators in Las Vegas. The lewd, booze-filled event would become known by a single word, Tailhook, and the ensuing outcry ended the careers of the seagoing service’s top two officials.

The latest uproar over sex crimes in the ranks was ignited by a 2012 documentary, “The Invisible War.” In the film, adult sexual assault victims contended in vivid terms that military leaders ignored the crimes and instead punished those who reported them.

For members of Congress from both political parties, the documentary hit hard. It identified the problem graphically, leading to sweeping alterations in military law and policy aimed at preventing sexual assaults.

But many lawmakers aren’t satisfied and are pushing for even more reform. In June, 50 senators voted for a bill that would have made a major change to the military justice system despite the Pentagon’s opposition. But the effort was short of the 60 votes required but this was enough to trigger doubts on Capitol Hill about the military’s commitment to stopping sex crimes.

In fact, the military’s focus has been on adult-on-adult crimes, not children, said retired Col. Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor and the president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“This has been under the radar,” Christensen said. “When DOD talks about sexual assault, it talks about people in uniform.”

Sexual assault is considered a chronically underreported crime. Victims often feel they won’t be believed, fear retaliation, or may not want their attacker punished.

Children are most often sexually abused by people they know or trust and that makes it difficult for them to tell another person what happened, said Howard Fradkin, a psychologist and former president of MaleSurvivor, a support group for men who were sexually abused as children.

A father sexually abusing a child might say, “If you tell, you know your daddy’s going to get fired from the military,” Fradkin said. “Whether or not that’s true, that’s all you have to say to keep them silent.”

A victim of Navy Petty Officer First Class Darren Yazzie kept her abuse “bottled up” for several years until an alert middle-school counselor noticed her sitting by herself at lunch time, visibly upset. The counselor took her to an office where she recounted how he “would crawl into bed and have sex with her,” according to the NCIS investigative report on Yazzie. His name was blacked out of the report released by NCIS, but the AP was able to identify him by information in the document that matched his case.

She wrote messages on notebook paper and her bedroom wall. “I (expletive) Hate you,” read one. “Die …,” read another, with the name redacted.

After the Navy began investigating, Yazzie went AWOL from the ship he was assigned to in San Diego, the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton. He was arrested in Arizona and returned to the Navy for trial. Yazzie was convicted in January of rape of a child and sentenced to 17 years. There was no pretrial agreement.

A leading critic of the Pentagon’s treatment of sexual assault, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called the AP’s findings about the number of child victims alarming and disturbing.

“There are just huge red flags and huge concerns about where justice is not being done,” Gillibrand said. “This is just the latest example of DOD’s lack of transparency on the issue of sexual assault.”

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, Julie Watson in San Diego, and researcher Monika Mathur in Washington contributed to this report.

General upholds conviction, 35-year sentence in Chelsea Manning case

An Army general has upheld the conviction and 35-year prison sentence for Private Chelsea Manning, who turned over classified U.S. government information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery S. Buchanan, commander of the Military District of Washington, upheld the conviction according to an announcement from the Army on April 14.

That decision now clears the way for an automatic appeal of the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Manning’s appellate lawyers said on April 13 that they expected the appeal to focus on issues including alleged misuse of the Espionage Act.

Manning, a 26-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., was sentenced in August 2013 for six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses for leaking more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents, plus some battlefield video, while serving in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

Buchanan had the option of approving or reducing the court-martial findings.

Manning is serving her sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Military prosecutors at Manning’s trial last summer called the former intelligence analyst an anarchist hacker and traitor who indiscriminately leaked information she had sworn to protect.

The leak was one of the largest of classified information in U.S. history.

Manning’s supporters say she is a whistleblower who exposed U.S. war crimes and diplomatic hypocrisy while working in Iraq.

Manning was convicted in July 2013 of 20 crimes but acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy.

After sentencing, Manning came out as a transgender woman.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Manning releases statement: I am Chelsea Manning. I am female

Updated: The soldier sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending a trove of classified information to Wikileaks released a statement on Aug. 22 identifying as Chelsea Manning, announcing plans to live as a woman and begin the transitioning process.

The written statement was provided to NBC’s “Today” show. The show’s website contained Manning’s statement, which was headlined, “Subject: The Next Stage of My Life” and read:

I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you, Chelsea E. Manning

Within an hour of Manning’s announcement, supporters updated their protest campaign to the Free Chelsea movement and flooded social media with positive and appreciative statements.

A number of LGBT civil rights groups also responded to the Manning’s formal coming out as transgender and encouraged people, especially those in the news media, to be respectful.

The Human Rights Campaign said in a release, “Pvt. Chelsea Manning’s transition deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. As she requested in her letter, journalists and other officials should use her chosen name of Chelsea and refer to her with female pronouns. Using the name Bradley or male pronouns is nothing short of an insult. Media, having reported on her wishes, must respect them as is the standard followed by the AP Stylebook.”

HRC also said, “As Pvt. Manning serves her sentence, she deserves the same thing that any incarcerated person does – appropriate and competent medical care and protection from discrimination and violence. The care she receives should be something that she and her doctors – including professionals who understand transgender care – agree is best for her.  There is a clear legal consensus that it is the government’s responsibility to provide medically necessary care for transgender people and the military has an obligation to follow those guidelines.”

A military judge announced Manning’s prison sentence on Aug. 22.

Gender identity was a key part of the defense in the trial of Manning, who had previously identified as gay but has long talked about struggles with gender identity.

Attorneys had presented evidence that Manning was struggling with gender identity, including a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick that Manning had sent to a therapist.

Manning also wrote a letter to the president this week, which his defense attorney read into the record. The letter, which requested a pardon, explained concerns for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and expressed a love for country and people, read:

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized that (in) our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy – the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps – to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.


Manning releases statement, wants to live as a woman

The soldier sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending a trove of classified information to Wikileaks released a statement on Aug. 22 identifying as Chelsea Manning, announcing plans to live as a woman and begin a transitioning process.

The written statement was provided to NBC’s “Today” show.

The show’s website contained Manning’s statement, which was headlined, “Subject: The Next Stage of My Life” and read

I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

Thank you, Chelsea E. Manning

A military judge announced the sentence in Manning’s court-martial on Aug. 22.

Gender identity was a key part of the defense in the trial of Manning, who had previously identified as gay but has long talked about struggles with gender identity.

Attorneys had presented evidence that Manning was struggling with gender identity, including a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick that Manning had sent to a therapist.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.

Prosecution rests in Bradley Manning trial

Prosecutors rested their case against Pfc. Bradley Manning on July 2 after presenting evidence from 80 witnesses, trying to prove the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst let military secrets fall into the hands of al-Qaida and its former leader Osama bin Laden.

The 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., is charged with 21 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence. To prove that charge, prosecutors must show Manning gave intelligence to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, knowing it would be published online and seen by an enemy of the United States.

Manning has acknowledged sending more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and State Department diplomatic cables, along with several battlefield video clips, to WikiLeaks while working in Baghdad from November 2009 through May 2010.

The defense could begin its case as early as next Monday, when the trial will resume. Manning’s defense said at the opening of the trial that he was a young and naive, but a good-intentioned soldier whose struggle to fit in as a gay man in the military made him feel he “needed to do something to make a difference in this world.”

He told a military judge in February he leaked the war logs to document “the true costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” including the deaths of two Reuters employees killed in a U.S. helicopter attack. Manning said the diplomatic cables revealed secret pacts and deceit he thought should be exposed.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Manning, a former intelligence analyst, used military computers in Iraq to download reams of documents and battlefield video from a classified network, transferred some of the material to his personal computer and sent it to WikiLeaks.

The evidence showed Manning’s training repeatedly instructed him not to give classified information to unauthorized people.

As they wrapped up their case, prosecutors offered that al-Qaida leaders reveled in WikiLeaks’ publication of classified U.S. documents, urging members to study them before devising ways to attack the United States.

“By the grace of God the enemy’s interests are today spread all over the place,” Adam Gadahn, a spokesman for the terrorist group, said in a 2011 al-Qaida propaganda video. The video specifically referred to material available on the WikiLeaks website.

The government also presented evidence that bin Laden asked for and received from an associate the Afghanistan battlefield reports WikiLeaks published. The evidence was a written statement, agreed to by the defense, that the material was found on digital media seized in the May 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Bin Laden was killed in the raid.

Prosecutors struggled to prove Manning collaborated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or looked to the website for guidance – assertions meant to show that he leaked the material with evil intent.

Manning’s intent is a key issue, said Philip Cave, a retired Navy lawyer in private practice in Alexandria, Va.

“I think it was pretty clear that WikiLeaks would have released anything and everything,” he said. “Just because he did it that way, is that evidence of intent to share it with the enemy?”

Manning faces eight espionage counts and a computer fraud charge, all alleging he either exceeded his authorized access to classified information or had unauthorized possession of national defense material. His top-secret clearance enabled him to look at many kinds of classified information, but an information assurance officer, Capt. Thomas Cherepko, testified that “having the ability to go there doesn’t mean you have the need or authority to go there.”

Manning is also charged with five counts of theft, each alleging he stole a something of value worth more than $1,000.

The trial is being heard by a judge, not a jury. It began June 3 and was in session for 14 days before the prosecution rested.

Prosecutors requested fewer courtroom closures to discuss classified information than they projected before the trial started. Maj. Ashden Fein initially said as much as 30 percent of the government’s case would require closing the courtroom, but there were only three secret sessions.

“They may have felt that it was not serving public confidence in the administration of justice to run any more of it than was absolutely necessary behind closed doors,” said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School.

Manning has pleaded guilty to reduced charges on seven of eight espionage counts and two computer fraud counts. He also has pleaded guilty to violating a military regulation prohibiting wrongful storage of classified information. The offenses carry a combined maximum prison term of 20 years.

Despite his pleas, prosecutors are seeking to convict him of the original charges.

On June 30, more than 2,000 people marched in San Francisco’s Pride parade as part of a “Free Bradley Manning” contingent. A Pride committee had elected Manning as the parade’s grand marshal but the committee decision was overturned by the Pride board.

San Francisco Pride confirms: No honor for Manning

Organizers of San Francisco’s annual gay Pride celebration have confirmed that they won’t honor the U.S. soldier who’s acknowledged providing classified documents to WikiLeaks.

Army private Bradley Manning was selected as a grand marshal for the June 30 SF Pride parade by a group of former grand marshals. However, parade directors decided in April to rescind that honor, sparking protests.

The San Francisco Chronicle says SF Pride directors have released a statement reiterating that decision. The directors say they considered other options they received at a community forum but couldn’t agree on them.

Questions and answers on the Bradley Manning case

After more than three years in jail, gay U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is on trial for leaking a massive amount of classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Here are some questions and answers about Manning’s court-martial.

Q: What did Manning do?

A: The 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., admitted he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables in 2009 and 2010 while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad. Manning also said he leaked a 2007 video clip of a U.S. helicopter crew gunning down a group of 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.

Q: What will the trial be like?

A: Manning chose to be tried by a military judge, not a jury. Army Col. Denise Lind will preside over the trial and recommend a sentence, which could be reduced by the Military District of Washington commander who ordered the court-martial. The trial at Fort George G. Meade, an Army post south of Baltimore, is expected to take all summer and include more than 100 witnesses.

Significant portions of the trial won’t be open to reporters and the public because the witnesses will testify about classified information. There are three Army lawyers prosecuting the case, headed by Maj. Ashden Fein. Manning’s defense team is headed by an Army reserve officer in private practice, David Coombs, and includes two lawyers currently serving in the Army.

Q: What kind of punishment would Manning face if convicted?

A: Army lawyers initially brought 22 charges against Manning, including the most serious: aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. But to prove the charge, prosecutors must show Manning knew the material would be seen by members of al-Qaida. Prosecutors said during opening arguments they would present evidence that Osama bin Laden asked for and received material WikiLeaks published.

Manning pleaded guilty in February to lesser versions of nine offenses alleging violations of federal espionage and computer fraud laws, and to one count alleging violation of a military regulation prohibiting wrongful storage of classified information. The combined maximum prison term for those offenses is 20 years.

The judge accepted his guilty plea, but prosecutors initially did not. Prosecutors later accepted Manning’s guilty plea for a lesser version of one count, involving a single diplomatic cable summarizing U.S. embassy discussions with Icelandic officials about the country’s financial troubles.

Q: Why did he do it?

A: Manning said in February he leaked the material to expose the American military’s “bloodlust” and disregard for human life in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he did not believe the information would harm the U.S. and he wanted to start a debate on the role of the military and foreign policy.

At the same time, defense lawyers have portrayed Manning as a troubled young soldier who was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when homosexuals were barred from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Q: What happened as a result of the leak?

A: The release of the cables and video embarrassed the U.S. and its allies. The Obama administration has said it threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments, but the specific amount of damage hasn’t been publicly revealed and probably won’t be during the trial because the judge ruled it was irrelevant. Manning’s attorney said the damage was minimal.

Marine denies mocking Bradley Manning’s homosexuality

A former supervisor of the Marine Corps brig that housed an Army private charged with sending U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website denied this week that he was making light of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s homosexuality when he referred to the soldier’s underwear as “panties” in a staff memo.

Marine Corps Master Sgt. Brian Papakie testified as a prosecution witness on the seventh day of a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, near Baltimore. The hearing will determine whether the nine months Manning spent in Marine Corps custody in Quantico, Virginia, amounts to illegal pretrial punishment, and whether his case should be dismissed as a result. The military contends Manning had to be confined to his cell at least 23 hours a day, sometimes without clothing, to prevent him from hurting or killing himself during his confinement July 2010-April 2011.

Papakie testified on cross-examination about a memo he wrote after the brig commander ordered Manning stripped of his underwear each night starting March 2, 2011. Manning stood naked at attention for a prisoner count the next morning, causing a stir that prompted Papakie to write an email to ensure it didn’t happen again.

“Make sure he is not standing at attention naked for evening count right before taps. You should be taking his panties right before he lays down,” Papakie wrote.

Under questioning by defense attorney David Coombs, Papakie said he uses the word interchangeably with “skivvies” and “underwear” when discussing men’s undershorts.

“I’ve always used the phrase, ‘Don’t get my panties in a bunch,’ which is what I tell the staff all the time,” he said.

Papakie acknowledged that he knew Manning was gay but said he didn’t consider the word “panties” homophobic. He conceded that it was not professional to use the term in a memo.

Papakie followed another witness, Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis, who testified that Manning’s sexual orientation was among the factors that led him to recommend Manning remain on injury-prevention status despite two psychiatrists’ repeated recommendations that his conditions be eased.

Manning was arrested in May 2010, before the military lifted a ban on gays serving openly in the armed services.

Manning’s lawyers must show that his treatment at Quantico was either intentional punishment or so egregious that it was tantamount to punishment. The government has the burden of proving by preponderance of the evidence that it had a legitimate purpose in imposing the restrictions.

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, could dismiss all charges if she finds for the defense but military legal experts say that’s unlikely. A more common remedy is extra credit at sentencing for time served. Manning’s lawyers have asked for 10-for-1 credit if the judge refuses to dismiss the case.

Manning’s treatment drew international attention and was condemned by his supporters, who consider him a heroic whistleblower. United Nations torture investigator Juan E. Mendez called Manning’s treatment “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

The 24-year-old is charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. He’s accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.

He’s also charged with leaking a 2007 video clip of a U.S. helicopter crew gunning down 11 men later found to have included a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.

Gay soldier Manning faces arraignment

Pfc. Bradley Manning will face a military arraignment on Feb. 23 as the government continues to prosecute the gay soldier for allegedly leaking U.S. security secrets to WikiLeaks.

The formal arraignment will take place at Fort Meade, Md., where Manning, 24, faced a preliminary hearing two months ago.

Demonstrators with the Free Bradley Manning Network are expected to protest outside the base and attend the hearing, which is open to the public.

At the arraignment, dates for Manning’s trial likely will be set. His defense expects pre-trial motions will be heard in April and the trial – a full court martial – will take place in early May.

In a vastly different arena, Manning recently has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Icelandic Parliament.

A statement by Iceland MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir said Manning’s “alleged actions helped motivate the democratic Arab Spring movements, shed light on secret corporate influence on our foreign policies, and most recently contributed to the Obama Administration agreeing to withdraw all U.S. troops from the occupation in Iraq.”

Manning allegedly gave more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication. Prosecutors say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with the soldier.

Manning could be imprisoned for life if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge against him.

During the preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”

Defense lawyers claim Manning was a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-2010. The defense has cited the fear and harassment encouraged under the now-repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a factor in Manning’s troubles.

Defense lawyers also say that others had access to Manning’s workplace computers.

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Army officer recommends trial in WikiLeaks case

A U.S. Army officer has recommended a general court-martial for a low-ranking intelligence analyst charged with causing the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history.

Lt. Col. Paul Almanza’s recommendation to try Pfc. Bradley Manning on all 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, now goes up the chain of command for a final determination by a general, according to the AP.

The military did not provide a timeline for those actions.

Manning, 24, allegedly gave more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication. Prosecutors say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with Manning, who is gay.

Defense lawyers say Manning was clearly a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-2010.

Manning could be imprisoned for life if convicted of the aiding the enemy, the most serious charge. The charge carries a maximum penalty of death, but Almanza agreed with prosecutors, who recommended against seeking the death penalty. Ultimately, however, that decision lies with Linnington.

Almanza presided over Manning’s seven-day preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 investigation, in December near Washington. During that hearing, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”

Manning’s lawyers countered that others had access to Manning’s workplace computers. They say he was in emotional turmoil, partly because he was a gay soldier at a time when gays were barred from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.

Source: AP