FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — An Army private's leak of classified information to WikiLeaks changed how the public, the government and traditional news media perceived the anti-secrecy organization — from a legitimate journalistic enterprise to a group that supported terrorism, a Harvard law professor testified Wednesday.
Pfc. Bradley Manning's lawyers called Yochai Benkler to testify about the government's response to WikiLeaks' publication of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables and battlefield video that Manning has acknowledged sending to the anti-secrecy group.
Before that material was published, starting in April 2010, major newspapers and even a Pentagon report generally portrayed WikiLeaks as a new kind of journalistic organization, Benkler said.
But after WikiLeaks began publishing the hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports Manning leaked, that perception changed substantially, he said.
After WikiLeaks began publishing more than 250,000 leaked State Department cables in late November 2010, "the response is hard to define as anything but shrill," Benkler said. He cited Vice President Joe Biden's comment in a Dec. 19, 2010, appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" that, "I would argue it is closer to being a hi-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers."
Defense attorney David Coombs told the military judge he called Benkler to testify about "how a journalistic organization changed from being a legitimate journalistic organization to being a terrorist organization based on the response of the government."
Manning is charged with aiding the enemy, which carries a possible life sentence, for admittedly sending reams of classified information to WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in late 2009 and early 2010. Prosecutors say he knew the material would be seen by the terrorist group al-Qaida on the WikiLeaks website. They produced evidence that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden obtained digital copies of some of the leaked documents.
Coombs told Manning's courtroom supporters on Tuesday evening that Benkler's testimony would likely conclude the defense case, said Jeff Paterson, a board member of the Bradley Manning Support Network.