The trial of Bradley Manning, accused of one of the biggest leaks of classified information in history, begins today at a military base in Maryland, NPR reports. Prosecutors say he downloaded thousands of diplomatic cables and war field reports and sent them to the website WikiLeaks. Manning’s supporters say he deserves an award for blowing the whistle on war crimes, civilian casualties and torture. Instead, they say, he was abused by the U.S. military, which held him in solitary confinement for months in a brig in Virginia.
The case is one of the longest and most complex in military history, says Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale. “The unanswered question is why this train has run so badly off the tracks,” he says. Fidell says the military justice system is supposed to prize speed and efficiency, but the drift in the Manning prosecution and other failings undermine public confidence. “It’s unfolding at a time that may be a tipping point for the military justice system generally,” he says. “And what I’m talking about specifically is the widespread consternation and dismay about how the military justice system deals with an entirely unrelated type of criminality, which is sexual assault.”