By Larry Shaughnessy
The lawyer for the U.S. Army private accused of leaking thousands of classified documents said in a court filing that the information in question did not do "any real damage to national security."
Next month, Pfc. Bradley Manning will be flown from the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Fort Meade, Maryland, where he'll appear at his first crucial pretrial hearing.
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, is requesting a number of items from the government as part of the mandatory pretrial discovery in the case, including full details on several investigations of the diplomatic cables Manning is suspected of leaking.
"The Department of State formed a task force of over 120 individuals to review each released diplomatic cable," Coombs wrote in the filing. "The task force conducted a damage assessment of the leaked cables and concluded that the information leaked either represented low-level opinions or was already known due to previous public disclosures."
About a similar Department of Defense probe of the leaked cables, Coombs wrote, "The damage assessment concluded that all of the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures."
The claims made by Coombs seem to fly in the face of dire comments about the leaks made by Department of Defense officials in June 2010, shortly after Manning's arrest.
"The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners," then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said about the leaks. They "may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world. Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures, will become known to our adversaries."
Adm. Michael Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was even more serious.
"They might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family. Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we've been given, but don't put those who willingly go into harm's way even further in harm's way just to satisfy your need to make a point," Mullen said of Manning and the people at WikiLeaks who published the items he is accused of leaking.
But while painting the leaks in the worst possible way, even back then, Gates was hinting that Manning's actions, if true, were not a dramatic threat to U.S. national security.
"Problems identified and the issues raised in these documents relating to the war in Afghanistan have been well known in and out of government for some time," Gates said in 2010. "These documents represent a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old, devoid of context or analysis. They do not represent official positions or policy. And they do not, in my view, fundamentally call into question the efficacy of our current strategy in Afghanistan."
Manning, a military intelligence analyst from Oklahoma, now faces a total of 34 charges in the case, including transmitting defense information, disclosing classified information concerning the national defense and giving intelligence to the enemy.
That final charge is perhaps the most serious, because it could lead to a death sentence if he's convicted.
Manning is due at Fort Meade on December 16, for an Article 32 hearing. That's a military version of a civilian arraignment, but unlike a civilian hearing it often includes a considerable amount of testimony and presentation of evidence. This hearing is scheduled to last several days.
Afterwards, a military officer will decide if Manning will face a court-martial.