Most of us, even lawyers, are unfamiliar with the military justice system. So, when soldiers are in need of an outside attorney, they seek out someone with very specialized experience.
Reuters calls Private First Class Bradley Manning’s defense attorney David Coombs a “low-profile” lawyer. That may be true, at least in private practice. To be fair, he has only been a sole practitioner for a little more than a year, which is hardly enough time to raise one’s profile.
Before entering private practice, he spent more than a decade serving in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney. He also served as a professor at the Judge Advocate General’s School and the Roger Williams School of Law.
As for his notable cases, he was part of the defense team for Former Sergeant Hasan Karim Akbar, the soldier who was convicted of throwing grenades at, and shooting at, his fellow soldiers in Kuwait at the start of the Iraq War in 2003.
You may call him low-profile, but we think that the Lieutenant Colonel, who still serves in the Army Reserves, is kind of a big deal. With experience in as both a prosecutor and defender in the military criminal justice system, he has a unique perspective on defense strategies, even in cases where there may be no right answer.
In the Manning case, he allowed his client to plead guilty to 10 lesser offenses back in February, a move that was questioned by other legal experts, according to Reuters. The naked plea assured that his client would serve twenty years in prison, but also meant that the trial would be more focused on the most severe charges, such as the accusation that the leaks were done in order to help al Qaeda.
In his opening statements, Coombs painted Manning as a misguided young soldier who wanted to "make the world a better place" after witnessing an incident on Christmas Eve where a roadside bomb missed its intended targets -- U.S. soldiers -- and blasted an Iraqi civilian vehicle, killing one.
While the prosecutor spent much of his time arguing that Manning leaked information that could have helped the enemy and placed American lives in danger, Coombs argued that Manning carefully selected materials that "could not be used against the U.S.," reports ABC. A Navy SEAL is expected to testify that leaked materials were found on hard drives during the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound.
Manning himself, in his statement read at the plea bargain proceedings, stated that he wanted "to spark a debate about foreign policy" and to show "the true cost of war."
Without admitting the leaks in the earlier plea bargain, the "mistakes borne from good intentions" defense likely wouldn't have been possible. It's an interesting strategy, and if the evidence was a damning as it seems, might pay off with a shorter-than-life sentence for Manning.