Independent journalist Alexa O'Brien interviewed Bradley Manning's attorney David Coombs Wednesday in Coombs' first on-camera interview following Manning's sentencing. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing a massive cache of sensitive government documents to Wikileaks, information that detailed secret information behind America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
O'Brien joined HuffPost Live Wednesday to share the first excerpt from her interview with Coombs, which will air in full on Democracy Now! Thursday morning.
In the excerpt, Coombs maintained that he didn't believe Manning gave away "anything that was sensitive." When asked which aspect of the case was the most damaging, he pointed to Mannings' sentence, but also said that the information Manning revealed damaged the United States in that it was an "embarrassment."
"I think the most damage done was the sentence that my client received," Coombs told O'Brien. "If you're talking about damage from a standpoint of what he released, embarrassment. Embarrassment was the most damage." He referred specifically to information revealed by the diplomatic cables:
"I think the damage there was an embarrassment there of having other people see that we don't always do the right thing for the right reasons, as the United States, which might come as a surprise to some people," he said. "Because if people actually look to those documents, they'll see that we don't always do what we should do and we're not always the country we should strive to be."
O'Brien wrote a piece Wednesday for The Daily Beast, in which she shared what Coombs told her Manning's reaction to the sentence was:
"He said, 'Hey, it's OK. It's all right. I know you did everything you could for me. Don't cry. Be happy. It's fine. This is just a stage in my life. I am moving forward. I will recover from this,'" his defense lawyer David Coombs said in an interview conducted immediately after the sentencing.
A full transcript of Coombs' remarks in the above excerpt appears below.
O'Brien told HuffPost Live host Mike Sacks that Coombs was surprised by the 35-year sentence military judge Col. Denise Lind handed down.
"We talked about what his expectation was, and he thought that the judge was going to give Manning a lesser sentence, what he would consider a fair sentence," O'Brien said of her time with Coombs.
She described the trial as "unprecedented" in that "it really shows the health of the free press in the United States, the health of our justice system."
"Fundamentally this trial has been really orchestrated by the government through the lack of access to the public as well as to the media," she told Sacks. "What they've been able to do is use their closed sessions to hide information from the scrutiny of people who are interested in this case, who want to report on this case, to see whether or not there actually was damage."
Watch O'Brien's interview with HuffPost Live below:
O'Brien said that Coombs speculated that the outcome of the case might have been different had there been public access to the trial, and said that there was no material need to keep the trial closed to the public.
"Pretty much what we heard in open sessions is what we heard in closed sessions as well," she said. "It was speculative, it was future probable harm, it was the opinion of U.S. government employees and federal contractors."
Transcript of O'Brien's interview with Coombs:
ALEXA O'BRIEN: What was the most damage done in this case?
DAVID COOMBS: I personally - I think the most damage done was the sentence that my client received. If you're talking about damage from a standpoint of what he released, embarrassment. Embarrassment was the most damage. It's not -- when you look at the SIGACTS and you look at the other charge documents, all that stuff is as I said before, is something that looks to past acts. It's kind of a historical record. I don't believe any of that gave away anything that was sensitive. The diplomatic cables on the other hand, I think the damage there was an embarrassment there of having other people see that we don't always do the right thing for the right reasons, as the United States, which might come as a surprise to some people. You would think that when we deal with other countries, when we deal with people who are less fortunate in our country, that we're doing so in a way that helps everybody, that's in everyone's best interest. But that's not always the case, and frequently, we do things that are in our own national interest. And sometimes that is to the detriment of people who are struggling to have what we have here in America -- a democracy, a free and open press. And that's a little disheartening when you see that. I think that's probably the biggest damage. Because if people actually look to these documents, they'll see that we don't always do what we should do and we're not always the country we should strive to be.
O'BRIEN: What drove Manning to release these documents?
COOMBS: I think what he was seeing and the amount of time he had to deal with this -- if you're in any deployed environment which I have been several times, you have nothing else but your jobs and perhaps going to the gym to work out, to eat, to sleep, then go back to your job. And for him I think what probably caused this to accelerate was that's all he had to think about. And because of his moral compass, because of what he was hoping to achieve when he went there, you look back at the Laura McNamara chats, back then she was called Zachary Antolak. You look at those chats and you see a young man hoping that when he gets there he can make a difference. He can hopefully save lives. Hopefully get people back safely. How disheartening it must have been when he got there that it really wasn't always the mission. And we didn't always just kill bad people. Sometimes we just kill people because they were in the wrong place, and no one asked questions. And no one investigated to see did we do something wrong. And when we did do something wrong, we didn't come forward with that information. We didn't readily admit the mistake and say we're sorry and show how we're going to prevent this from happening in the future. We owe that to the American public. We owe that to the public that we go to protect, and to help them build a good country. And yet, we didn't do that. And so for Brad to see that, I think that is probably what accelerated his belief that the public needed to see this information.