Manning’s sexual orientation is raised at hearing

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — The young Army intelligence specialist accused of leaking government secrets spent his 24th birthday in court Saturday as his lawyers argued his status as a gay soldier before the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” played an important role in his actions.

Lawyers for Pfc. Bradley Manning began laying out a defense to show that his struggles in an environment hostile to homosexuality contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material.

Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive items to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

Prosecutors at the pretrial hearing in a small courtroom on an Army post outside Washington began trying to connect Manning to the publication of that material by WikiLeaks. On Saturday, they presented six of about 20 witnesses they plan to call during the hearing being held to determine whether Manning will be court-martialed on 22 counts, including aiding the enemy.

Testimony included the first references since the hearing began Friday to Adrian Lamo, a former hacker to whom Manning allegedly confessed his ties to WikiLeaks. The basis for the charges Manning faces are transcripts of a series of online chats with Lamo.

The Obama administration says the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America’s relations with other governments. Manning’s lawyers counter that much of the information that was classified by the Pentagon posed no risk.

Army criminal investigators described evidence they collected that links Manning to the WikiLeaks website’s collection of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.

But among the first issues to arise Saturday was whether Manning’s sexual orientation is relevant to the case against him. The defense revealed that Manning had written to one of his supervisors in Baghdad before his arrest, saying he was suffering from gender-identity disorder. He included a picture of himself dressed as a woman and talked about how it was affecting his ability to do his job and even think clearly.

Maj. Matthew Kemkes, a defense lawyer, asked Special Agent Toni Graham, an Army criminal investigator, whether she had talked to people who believed Manning was gay or found evidence among his belongings relating to gender-identity disorder. The condition often is described as a mental diagnosis in which people believe they were born the wrong sex.

Graham said such questions were irrelevant to the investigation. “We already knew before we arrived that Pfc. Manning was a homosexual,” Graham said.

Prosecutors objected several times to the questions. Kemkes responded that if the government can argue that Manning intended to leak secrets, “what is going on in my client’s mind is very important.”

During cross -examination of Treasury Department Special Agent Troy Bettencourt, who investigated the case, defense attorney Capt. Paul Bouchard asked him he was aware during his investigation that Manning was gay. “Yes, sir,” Bettencourrt said.

Bouchard asked Bettencourt if he believes Manning’s military leaders failed him, given his behavior such as overturning a table and throwing a chair in episodes of rage. Bettencourt said that in hindsight, “I would like to think that had I been in the chain of command, I would have maybe done things differently. I would have been aware of everything we now know to prevent him from deploying — but that is with the benefit of hindsight.”

Prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow quickly asked Bettencourt if he believes people who have signed nondisclosure agreements, like Manning, “have an individual responsibility to safeguard classified information.” Bettencourt replied, “Yes.”

One of Manning’s commanders in Baghdad, Capt. Steven Lim, said Manning should have had his security clearance suspended because of his problems. Lim said the outbursts occurred before he arrived, and that when he learned of them after Manning’s arrest, he was shocked. Lim said he was also unaware that Manning believed he was suffering from gender-identity disorder.

A former platoon sergeant testified that Manning knew from training he shouldn’t give classified information to people not authorized to have it. That witness, now retired Sgt. First Class Brian Madrid, said by phone from Arizona that he also had to give Manning “corrective training” in 2008 after Manning prepared a video for his family of himself talking about his daily life.

Madrid said Manning had used words in the video like “top secret” and “classified.” And while he didn’t reveal any secrets, those words could identify him as a person with a high-level security clearance and make him a target of those would want to compromise him.

During its cross examination of Graham, the Army criminal investigator, Manning’s defense team also sought to convince the court that not all of the material he is accused of leaking is classified.

Graham, who collected evidence from Manning’s living quarters and workplace, testified that among the items seized was a DVD marked “secret” that contained a military video showing the 2007 incident in which Apache attack helicopters gunned down unarmed men in Iraq.

The video was taken from the cockpit of one the helicopters. WikiLeaks posted the video in April 2010, sparking questions about the military’s rules of engagement and whether more needed to be done to prevent civilian casualties. The gunners can be heard laughing and referring to the men as “dead bastards.”

Kemkes asked Graham whether she knew the video was unclassified. She said she didn’t. “In fact, it was an unclassified video,” Kemkes said.

At the time the video was posted by WikiLeaks, the Pentagon called it a breach of national security and it was believed to be secret.

Although WikiLeaks had been posting sensitive information to the Web since 2006, release of the Apache video drew worldwide attention to the organization as it prepared to publish secret documents on the war in Afghanistan.

Manning’s appearances Friday and Saturday in the Fort Meade courtroom mark the first time he has been seen in public after 19 months in detention. The Oklahoma native comes to court in Army camouflage fatigues and wearing dark-rimmed glasses. Manning sat calmly in the courtroom Saturday without appearing to react to the testimony, even when centered on his troubled mental state and homosexuality. Manning listened intently and regularly took notes.

An Army appeals court on Friday rejected a defense effort to have the presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, because of alleged bias. Separately, lawyers for WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange are asking the military’s highest appeals court to guarantee two seats in the Fort Meade courtroom.

Manning’s hearing is open to the public, with limited seating. Inside the courtroom, no civilian recording equipment is allowed. Instead of a judge, a presiding officer delivers a recommendation as to whether prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a suspect to trial. A military commander then makes the final decision.

The case has spawned an international support network of people who believe the U.S. government has gone too far in seeking to punish Manning.

More than 100 people gathered outside Fort Meade for a march in support of Manning, some holding signs declaring “Americans have the right to know. Free Bradley Manning” and “Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime.”

Todd Anderson, 64, said he drove from New York City to take part. “I think this man showed a great deal of courage, the kind of thing I wouldn’t have the courage to do, and I really consider him to be a hero,” Anderson said.

Juline Jordan, 46, said she flew in from Detroit just for the day. “I support what he did because he exposed some horrific war crimes and horrific things done at the hands of the United States government and the Department of Defense, and he’s a hero for that,” Jordan said.

In London, several dozen protesters from gay organizations, the Occupy London protest camp and other groups rallied outside the U.S. Embassy Saturday calling for Manning’s release and offering birthday wishes.

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, Richard Lardner and Mark Sherman in Washington and Brian Witte at Fort Meade contributed to this report.

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