FORT MEADE, MD. — The classified information that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning disclosed through WikiLeaks put entire Afghan villages at risk of harm from the Taliban for cooperating with U.S. forces, a Pentagon official testified Friday at the soldier’s sentencing hearing.
Navy Rear Adm. Kevin Donegan, director of warfare integration, was director of operations for U.S. Central Command, including Iraq and Afghanistan, when WikiLeaks began publishing the leaked information on its website in 2010.
Donegan was among the last two witnesses in the prosecution’s sentencing case. He was followed by another Pentagon official, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who testified in a closed session about the classified impact on long-range battle plans of the government secrets Manning disclosed.
Manning’s defense team will begin presenting evidence Monday in the court-martial at Fort Meade, near Baltimore. Defense attorney David Coombs said Manning will give a statement before the defense rests on Wednesday.
Testifying as a prosecution witness, Donegan said WikiLeaks’ publication of more than 90,000 Afghanistan battlefield reports in July 2010 prompted the creation of a crisis team to assess whether the documents contained anything immediately useful to the enemy or identified people who had given information to U.S. forces.
He said the team found “a significant number” of such individuals, and also some villages, who had to be warned they were at risk.
“Each area of Afghanistan has a shadow Taliban governor associated with it,” Donegan said. “Villages, in and of themselves, for cooperating with the United States, can be retaliated against by the Taliban.”
He said the United States had a moral and ethical duty to inform those people and communities of the danger, a process that took nine months from start to final report.
Donegan refused to testify in open court about the number of people who were warned. He later testified in a closed session, where he presumably provided classified details of the mission.
On cross-examination, Donegan said he was unaware of any casualties suffered by troops traveling to dangerous areas to inform people at risk.
The 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., faces up to 90 years in prison for giving more than 700,000 documents and some battlefield video to the anti-secrecy group while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He was convicted July 30 of 20 counts, including six federal Espionage Act violations, five theft counts, and a federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act charge.
Manning claims he leaked the material to expose wrongdoing and provoke discussion about U.S. military and diplomatic affairs.