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Prosecutors say U.S. WikiLeaks soldier was seeking notoriety

U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse at Fort Meade in Maryland, July 18, 2013.REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse at Fort Meade in Maryland, July 18, 2013.REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana

By Medina Roshan

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - Military prosecutors said the U.S. soldier accused of the largest leak of classified information in the nation's history was hoping to make a name for himself by releasing documents on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

As the court-martial of Private First Class Bradley Manning winds down, prosecutors in closing arguments on Thursday said that the 25-year-old intelligence analyst had betrayed the trust his nation put in him.

"The only human PFC Manning ever cared about was himself," said Major Ashden Fein, the lead prosecuting attorney.

Attorneys for Manning, who faces 21 counts of leaking more than 700,000 documents through the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website, are due to make their closing remarks later in the day.

Earlier in the case they portrayed Manning as well-meaning but naive, intending to provoke a broader debate on U.S. military and diplomatic policy by releasing the documents. The most serious charge he faces, aiding the enemy, carries a life sentence.

The case has pitted civil liberties groups who seek increased transparency into the actions of the U.S. military and security apparatus, against the government, which has argued that the low-level intelligence analyst, who was stationed in Baghdad at the time, endangered lives.

Army Colonel Denise Lind, who is presiding over the trial, early in the proceedings on Thursday denied a request by the defense to find Manning not guilty of five of the counts related to stealing information from government databases.

She also denied a request by the defense to declare a mistrial.

'AGENCY OF THE PEOPLE'

The case, which saw WikiLeaks publish classified files, combat videos and diplomatic cables, serves as a test of the limits of secrecy in the Internet age.

But it has recently been overshadowed to some degree by the case of fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed to Britain's Guardian newspaper early last month the details of alleged secret U.S. surveillance programs tracking Americans' telephone and Internet use.

The WikiLeaks website has become controversial both for its publishing of secret data and for its founder, Julian Assange, who has been sheltering in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than a year to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.

Fein said a search of Manning's computers showed that he had done more than 100 searches related to WikiLeaks, which he called the "first intelligence agency of the people."

"Julian Assange had found the right insider" in Manning, Fein said.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 while serving in Iraq.

In February, he pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including misusing classified information, such as military databases in Iraq and Afghanistan and files pertaining to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Manning chose to be tried by a military judge, rather than have a panel of military jurors hear his case.

In February, Manning read from a prepared 35-page statement in an attempt to explain why he released classified information to WikiLeaks.

"I believe that if the general public ... had access to the information ... this could spark a domestic debate as to the role of the military and foreign policy in general," Manning said.

Fein said that intercepted communications between Manning and Assange showed that he knew he would rile the nation's leaders.

He quoted one, referring to the secretary of state, as saying, "Hillary Clinton is going to have a heart attack."

(Editing by Scott Malone, Gunna Dickson and Nick Zieminski)

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