A military hearing into the case of Bradley Manning – the soldier accused of passing American secrets to WikiLeaks – heard new details yesterday of the failure by his supervisors properly to note signs of emotional instability and revise his security clearance or even block his deployment in the first place.
The defence bench also highlighted the struggles suffered by Private Manning with his sexuality, suggesting that he had a gender disorder made all the harder to handle because the US had not at the time repealed its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that forced serving homosexuals to conceal their true natures.
The hearing, being held under strict security on a military base in Maryland, is expected to wind up later this week. The US military must then decide whether the case against Manning for his part in last year's WikiLeaks scandal is strong enough to warrant a full court martial. If Manning, who is half-Welsh, were to be convicted on the most serious charges filed against him he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
On Saturday more than 100 protesters gathered outside Fort Meade, the site of the hearing, to voice support for the soldier. Hundreds more marched through downtown San Francisco, chanting "Free Bradley Manning" and carrying banners with messages such as: "Blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime".
At Fort Meade, several witnesses were questioned over outbursts from Manning and other signs of erratic behaviour at the base in Iraq – where he served as a junior intelligence analyst in 2009 and 2010 – and what actions were taken in response. Those include his overturning a table in a show of rage and throwing a chair.
Some of those called the stand invoked their rights not to answer questions put to them, however. A Treasury Department Special Agent, Troy Bettencourt, who had been assigned to investigate the case, openly admitted that something had gone wrong in the process that allowed Manning to be placed on the intelligence team with full clearance in Baghdad.
"I would like to think that had I been in the chain of command, I would have maybe done things differently," he conceded. "I would have been aware of everything we now know to prevent him from deploying, but that is with the benefit of hindsight."
Prosecutors revealed that after the scandal broke they twice visited the home of an aunt of Manning in Maryland, where they said they found a memory card containing secrets allegedly hidden there by the accused. The hearing continues.