ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A huge trial is under way today at Fort Meade in Maryland. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning admits that he gave away hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents for publication on the WikiLeaks website. The trial is a court martial. Manning faces serious charges that include aiding the enemy.
The case has generated international attention and press access to the court is very limited. One journalist who has been watching the proceedings is Ed Pilkington from the British newspaper The Guardian. And he joins us now from Fort Meade. Welcome to the program.
ED PILKINGTON: Welcome.
SIEGEL: And first, just describe the scene for us. What's it like at Fort Meade?
PILKINGTON: Well, it's a pretty small, very, very simple courthouse. The first thing that strikes you is Manning is tiny - he's just over five feet - and he's sitting there in that navy blue dress uniform of the Army flanked by his defense lawyers facing a judge. He opted to have just one judge - there is no jury in this case.
SIEGEL: Today featured the testimony of former hacker Adrian Lamo who discovered that Manning was the source of the WikiLeaks material. Tell us about his testimony.
PILKINGTON: Well, it was a pretty dramatic moment in that Manning had never come face-to-face with the man who essentially had him arrested. The two of them entered into a Web chat just towards the end of the time in which Manning was leaking to WikiLeaks. And within a day of them opening up to a conversation, Lamo had contacted military counterintelligence authorities. And within hours of that, Manning was arrested in the operating base outside Baghdad where he was working as an intelligence analyst.
So they'd never actually met, and here was the snitch meeting the soldier who he'd helped to put into jail. So it was a pretty dramatic moment. And the defense used it to turn the argument into the conversation that the defense clearly wanted to have, which is that Manning is a - was a young, naive but very good-intentioned soldier who wanted to inspire a debate within America about what was happening in the name of the American public in Afghanistan and Iraq and had no evil intentions to help Al-Qaida which, of course, is the main allegation made by the prosecution.
SIEGEL: And I want to ask you about that allegation of the government's. The government is saying that Manning aided the enemy. It describes the leak as massive and indiscriminate and says that he was seeking fame. Which is it? I mean, are they saying that he set out to help Al-Qaida, or did his actions, while not intentioned in that way, had the effect of doing that?
PILKINGTON: Well, the trial is slated to last three whole months. So there's going to be a lot of evidence coming down the slipway with more than 140 prosecution witnesses. And that will be one of the big questions: What exactly are they alleging? Are they going to allege that he had actively wanted to help enemies of the American people? And that's going to be important because you have to bear in mind what's happening here, which is that the Obama administration, for the first time, is bringing a leaker to court.
There've been six prosecutions of official leakers under Obama. That's twice as many as any president before him combined, yet none of them has come to actual trial, and this is the first. So it's going to be really interesting to find out exactly what the Obama administration and the Army are intending to do with this prosecution.
SIEGEL: And it would have been possible - do I have this right to try Manning for leaking classified information without adding the charge of aiding the enemy?
PILKINGTON: Well, bear in mind that Manning himself has pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Now, if the judge chose to, she could accept that guilty plea, and she could give him the maximum sentence, which would be 20 years in military custody. Aiding the enemy carries a sentence of potentially death, though they've made it clear they're not going to go for that. But without death, it still has life in military custody with no chance at all of parole.
So they really are clearly going for a very heavy sentence, and they're apparently desiring to put out a message that official leaking will not be tolerated.
SIEGEL: Has the trial attracted all kinds of Manning supporters from the hacking world outside the courtroom?
PILKINGTON: Yes, a very large crowd of about, I'd say, 100 or so protesters or Manning supporters who believe that what he did was right. They call him a hero, and they believe what Manning did was to sort of strike a blow for public information, for freedom of information in the world which, as we know, is a very strong attitude among the hacking community and among the free information movement.
SIEGEL: Ed Pilkington, thanks for talking with us.
PILKINGTON: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Ed Pilkington is covering the trial of Bradley Manning at Fort Meade in Maryland for The Guardian.
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