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Police operation in coastal suburb near capital is described as one of the biggest ever anti-mafia sweeps in Rome area

As temperatures soar to around 40C this weekend, thousands of Romans will flock to nearby beaches to roast in the sun, play on the slot machines and dance in sticky seaside nightclubs. They will not be the only ones feeling the heat.

On Friday in an operation that prosecutors said revealed the extent of organised crime in the coastal suburb of Ostia near the Italian capital, 51 people were arrested on suspicion of mafia-related activity.

The crackdown, which involved about 500 police officers as well as dog support units, patrol boats and a helicopter, was described as one of the biggest anti-mafia sweeps ever carried out in the Rome area.

Its aim was to hit at the heart of gangs that prosecutors say have been carving up the coastal territory and sharing its considerable spoils for the past 20 years.

Located about 15 miles south-west of the capital near Leonardo da Vinci airport, Ostia’s sandy beaches prove a popular weekend destination for city-dwellers seeking to escape Rome’s stifling heat.

Particularly targeted in the operation on Friday were members of three clans – the Fasciani, Triassi, and D’Agati – whom investigators suspect of carrying out criminal activities including drug trafficking and extortion.

The Triassi are believed to have close ties to the Sicilian mafia. The website of Il Fatto Quotidiano, a daily newspaper, headlined the raids: “Welcome to Cosa Nostra beach”.

The alleged infiltration by criminal networks in Ostia’s political administration emerged this month when police raided the town hall’s permit office and placed an employee and local contractors under investigation on suspicion of rigging bids for beach contracts in favour of another mafia clan, the Spada.

The move prompted Rome’s new mayor, Ignazio Marino, to announce that permits to manage Ostia’s coastline would henceforth be handled directly from the capital. He said his administration would fight to curb “the underworld infiltration” of Ostia.

“In recent years, the Roman coastline has become fertile ground for criminal activities, the scene of bloody clashes between clans and criminal gangs who seek to control significant parts of the city’s economy,” he said.

One of the most startling incidents in the increasingly bloody turfwar in Ostia came in November 2011 when two criminals, Giovanni Galleoni and Francesco Antonini, were shot dead in the town centre in broad daylight.

In a separate but equally dramatic anti-mafia operation on Friday morning, police in the southern region of Calabria made dozens of arrests in the city of Lamezia Terme, about 40 miles south of Cosenza, some of which concerned a suspected car-crash scam in which payouts were allegedly used to provide criminals with drugs and arms.

Police said the raids had targeted a panoply of local people suspected of involvement in the scheme, ranging from insurers and lawyers to car repairers. There were also arrests of suspected hitmen on suspicion of several killings between 2005 and 2011, police said.

A Calabria senator in the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Freedom People (PdL) party was being investigated for suspected vote-buying but had not been arrested, they added.

Guido Marino, police chief in nearby Catanzaro, said the raids revealed a flourishing criminal system in the city that had drawn in not only fully paid-up members of criminal gangs but “professionals above suspicion”.

“This was a mafia system which not only bloodied Lamezia Terme with murders but which also bled dry a part of [the city’s] already fragile economy,” he was quoted as telling the Ansa news agency.

Calabria, one of Italy’s poorest regions, is the home to the ‘Ndrangheta, now Italy’s most formidable organised crime syndicate, which has grown far beyond its southern origins into a hugely powerful force thought to control much of the cocaine trade in Europe.

Ohio man – charged with 997 counts including kidnap and rape – agrees deal with prosecuctors that will spare him death penalty

A man accused of abducting three woman and holding them captive at his Ohio home for a decade pleaded guilty to multiple charges on Friday, as part of a plea deal that spared him from a death sentence.

Ariel Castro – charged with 977 counts over the kidnap, rape and brutal treatment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – agreed a deal with prosecutors under which he will serve life without parole, plus 1,000 years.

Asked in court in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday if he understood that he would spend the rest of his days behind bars, he replied: “I do understand that, your honour”. He added: “I knew I was pretty much going to get the book thrown at me.”

Castro, 53, had been due to stand trial over an indictment sheet that included two counts of aggravated murder over allegations that he punched and starved one of his captives until she miscarried.

The three victims – all of whom disappeared between 2002 and 2004 – escaped on 6 May, when one of them kicked out part of a door while being aided by a neighbour alerted to her screams for help.

The women were 14, 16, and 20 when they were abducted by Castro, a former school bus driver. Relief over their escape earlier this year quickly turned to horror as details emerged of their ordeal at his home in Cleveland.

For about a decade, Castro repeatedly abused them and kept them hidden from the world, often chaining them to a bedroom heater or a pole in his basement, prosecutors said.

Berry gave birth to a child, now six years old. On the day the daughter was born, Castro raped one of the other women, who had helped deliver the baby.

Other pregnancies never went to full term. Knight told prosecutors that she became pregnant five times but was starved and beaten up by Castro so she would miscarry.

Earlier this month, the three victims posted a video on YouTube, to thank the public for the support they had received since escaping from Castro’s house. “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high,” Knight said.

She added: “I will not let the situation define who I am, I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”

Castro, who was picked up by police soon after Berry escaped the home, had initially intended to plead not guilty. If the case had gone to trial, the victims would probably have had to testify in court about their ordeal.

Prosecutors had the option of pursuing the death penalty in the case. But under the plea agreement announced on Friday, that option was ruled out.

Hope is tempered by caution both among Iranians and in the west, where some see an opportunity to repair relations

A young Iranian couple, Masoud Bastani and Mahsa Amr-Abadi, both journalists and both imprisoned on account of their writing, have seen very little of each other for the past four years. Like many Iranian prisoners they were granted occasional temporary releases, but officials always made sure they were not allowed out at the same time.

“The authorities wanted to make life yet more miserable for the two, like an extra punishment,” said one of their friends. Their convictions were for colluding and spreading propaganda against the state, a frequent charge against dissidents and independent journalists. This month, however, Bastani and Amr-Abadi were reunited at their house in Tehran, and pictures on Facebook showing the smiling couple embracing one another delighted their friends and followers.

Their newfound happiness is one of a number of small signs of change after the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani, a veteran pragmatist who ran on an ambitiously reformist platform. With a week until Rouhani’s inauguration, such signs have fuelled hope that a peaceful “Iranian spring” could be on the way, reversing the intensifying repression of the last eight years under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet those hopes are tempered by bitter experience. Green shoots of civic freedoms and human rights were even more apparent under the last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, and at the peak of the 2009 opposition Green movement, only to be emphatically quashed by conservatives in the regime and security forces.

There is even greater caution in the west about the possibility of a better relationship with Tehran and perhaps even a deal to defuse the long and dangerous standoff over Iran’s nuclear aspirations. National security and the nuclear programme in particular are very much the preserve of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. But optimists hope that the intense economic pressures on Iran – amplified by severe US and European sanctions – that helped carry Rouhani to victory will drive the regime towards a historic compromise.

Rouhani has not yet formed a government, so the hopes and doubts swirling around his presidency are based mostly on speculation. However, Iranians report that since the election there has been a distinct thaw in the air.

Bastani and Amr-Abadi are not alone. More temporary releases have been handed out and a handful of the political prisoners recently granted leave have been told they need not return to jail provided they stay out of trouble. Others have been told they will be released on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday next month marking the end of Ramadan. Those on trial for political offences say they have been promised acquittal or light sentences. One recently released activist said his interrogators had been noticeably more polite, as if sensing the winds of change.

The new mood has been apparent among the police on the street. As millions of jubilant Iranians poured on to the streets to celebrate Iran’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup days after the election, the police tolerated public music, dancing and slogans chanted in favour of imprisoned opposition leaders, which would have been suppressed only days before.

Last week 25 independent Iranian documentary film-makers accused of working clandestinely inside the country for the BBC’s Persian service were all acquitted, even though at least 10 of them had previously been found guilty. The film-makers were alleged to have supplied the BBC with information, footage, news and reports misrepresenting Iran, leading to fears some would be charged with espionage. However, the country’s cinema organisation, affiliated to the powerful ministry for culture and Islamic guidance, surprised many by ruling that “none of the works was found to be propaganda against the ruling system and none contained anti-revolution material”.

At the same time, local media appear to be pushing back previously rigid boundaries. The semi-official Isna news agency broke a taboo by printing the names of opposition leaders under house arrest.

Summing up the popular mood, the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was blocked from standing in the election, said on Thursday: “The election’s result has brought hope, peace and rationality to our country.”

Even as they celebrate, many Iranians acknowledge they may be suffering from over-exuberance in view of the limited real changes to date and their extreme fragility. On Facebook and Twitter, the two-word post-election chant “Rouhani Mochakerim” (Rouhani thank you!), is increasingly used ironically as universal expression of gratitude for everyday occurrences (“My brother just passed his exams – Rouhani thank you!”).

The past few weeks have not just been a series of prisoner releases. There have been occasional political arrests too, such as that of the journalist Fariba Pajouh.

Faraz Sanei, of Human Rights Watch, said it was too early to declare a new Iranian spring on the basis of a few rays of sunshine. “Rouhani’s win was certainly a surprise to most analysts, but it is not an indication that reformists will have the upper hand during the next four years,” he said.

Rouhani’s impact on Iran’s relations with the rest of the world is even harder to predict. Khamenei set the tone for national security and foreign policy in the Ahmadinejad era and made clear during the election campaign that he did not intend to change under the new president.

There are signs that the regime intends to use Rouhani’s softer image to try to win more friends abroad. The government has broken with previous practice to invite foreign leaders – with the exceptions of US and Israel – to the inauguration next Sunday.

The foreign ministry even mounted something of a charm offensive in the direction of the UK, seen in ruling circles as Iran’s third worst adversary. On the occasion of the birth of Prince George, the ministry spokesman Abbas Araghchi, a UK-educated fluent English speaker, offered congratulations to the Queen and the Prince of Wales.

The conservative backlash to those comments, however, served to underline the scale of the challenge facing the new government in attempting a rapprochement with the west. Araghchi was fiercely criticised by parliamentary rightwingers, and state TV broadcast a furious diatribe describing the Queen as an “iron-fisted dictator” who chose members of parliament and filled key positions by appointment. “England has one of the most reactionary and medieval forms of governments,” the report from London declared.

Ali Ansari, professor of modern history at Saint Andrews University, said the regime would ultimately have to resolve its contradictory views on dealing with the west. “The conservatives seem to think that Rouhani’s election will change international perceptions overnight,” Ansari said. “But if they think that a smiling Rouhani will get sanctions lifted and everything will be hunky dory without giving something substantial to the west, they may be surprised.”

The mixed messages emanating from Tehran have deepened divisions in the west over how to respond to the dawning of the Rouhani age. The UK government has opted not to send officials to the inauguration, arguing that to do so would be to break with the common EU position that only local ambassadors should attend. (The UK has not had a diplomatic presence in Tehran since its embassy was stormed by a mob in November 2011.)

That decision was quickly condemned by the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, as “a misjudgment and a missed opportunity”. Ben Wallace, Conservative chairman of the British-Iran parliamentary group, also voiced concern that western mis-steps could undermine the new president. “Rouhani has a real task ahead. He has to balance the politics inside Iran while at the same time trying to bring Iran into the mainstream of the international community,” Wallace said. “The danger for him and for peace is if the US and the UK move the goalposts

and are seen to be hypocritical in support of repressive Sunni regimes yet tough on the Shia nation of Iran.”

The uncertainty over how to respond to Rouhani’s rise is even more pronounced across the Atlantic. According to the New York Times, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, passed a message purportedly from Rouhani to the White House, saying that the new president was interested in direct negotiations. As an apparent sweetener to encourage such sentiments, Washington has tweaked its draconian sanctions to allow the transfer of more medical equipment. At the same time, however, the Republican-run House of Representatives is preparing to vote on the imposition of even more stringent sanctions before going on its August recess. A joint letter by two retired senior US officers, General Joseph Hoar and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, and Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, published on The Hill’s congressional blog said: “Rouhani’s election represents what could be the last best hope for serious negotiations with Iran to produce a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear dispute. . “The House must not snuff out hopes for Iranian moderation before Rouhani even gets a chance.”

LGBT activists target brands including Stolichnaya and Russian Standard in response to ban on ‘gay propaganda’

There’s nothing more Russian than vodka, so when gay and lesbian activists decided to protest against the country’s persecution of homosexuals it made sense to target its most famous drink.

The US sex writer Dan Savage, famous for his online campaign against the homophobic senator Rick Santorum, called for a vodka boycott to draw attention to new laws allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual or “pro-gay”.

“To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Vladimir Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka,” Savage wrote on his blog, He singled out the brands Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli for the campaign, which has been backed by Queer Nation and the Russian-American group Rusa LGBT.

Savage said attacks on LGBT people in Russia were escalating, and criticised the state for banning gay pride marches in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Six bars in Chicago announced they would stop selling Russian products, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times, a Chicago LGBT newspaper.

The campaign seemed to have an instant success when the manufacturers of Stolichnaya criticised Russia’s record on lesbian and gay rights.

In an open letter published this week, Val Mendeleev, the head of the SPI group, condemned the Russian government for “limiting the rights of the LGBT community” and noted that the Russian state has no ownership or control of the brand, which is produced in Latvia.

On its Facebook page, the company posted a multicoloured banner reading: “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government.”

Stolichnaya, with its distinctive red-and-white label, was produced by the state in Soviet times and was reportedly the favourite vodka of Boris Yeltsin. After an attempt by the Russian state to regain the brand name in the 2000s, SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg, has produced Stolichnaya in Latvia using Russian ingredients. Meanwhile, the state-owned Soyuzplodimport produces a nearly identical vodka in Russia.

Russia’s leading gay rights activist said the boycott was misguided.

“They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn’t Russian,” said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organising committee.

“This is all good for attracting attention to the situation in Russia, like any other action, such as boycott of the Olympics, but it will not drastically change anything,” he added.

Unlike Stolichnaya, Russian Standard vodka is produced in Russia and is owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

In June Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a law banning the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors, prompting calls for other countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, and to distribute material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners. Four Dutch activists were charged in Murmansk this week under the law.

This is not Savage’s first controversial LGBT campaign: in 2003, he held a contest to create a definition for “santorum” after Santorum made comments critical of gay marriage. The new word was defined as “the frothy mixture of lube and faecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”.

More details emerge of Francisco Garz n, 52, as he recovers in hospital after train crash that left at least 78 dead

The focus of the investigation into Spain’s worst rail accident for 40 years remains on the train’s driver, Francisco Garz n, who has been under arrest in hospital since Thursday evening.

Garz n has so far refused to answer police questions, the Press Association reported. He was now expected to questioned by a judge, it said.

At least 78 people died in the accident in which the high-speed Alvia 151 train careered into a sharp curve at more than twice the permitted speed before hurtling off the tracks. By Friday night, 31 were critically ill in hospital, some of them in comas.

Antonio del Amo, head of the Spanish national police’s central forensic unit, said six of the bodies recovered from the wreckage had yet to be identified.

On Friday, more reports of Garz n’s actions leading up to the crash began to emerge. The daily El Pa s reported that the experienced 52-year-old driver had received an order to reduce speed just seconds before the crash and had acknowledged it by pressing a button in the driver’s cab. It remained unclear whether he had been unable or unwilling to apply the brakes on the train, which was running five minutes behind schedule.

A stream of leaked extracts from recorded conversations immediately following the disaster suggested that Garz n held himself responsible for what had happened.

While still trapped in the cockpit of his train, he was reported to have told the emergency service of the state-owned train operator, Renfe: “I hope there are no dead, because they will be on my conscience.” He added: “I should have been going at 80 [kph] and I am going at 190.” Garzon also reportedly said over and again: “We’re human, we’re human.”

The Spanish news agency Europa Press reported that during the same conversation the driver had said: “I’ve fucked it. I want to die.”

Contacted by telephone in hospital by the regional newspaper, La Voz de Galicia, Garz n refused to comment beyond saying, “You imagine how I am.”

Details also began to emerge of Garz n’s life. He is a lifelong railwayman and native of Galicia, living in the city of A Coru a with his widowed mother, who lost her other son in a car accident. But he was born in Monforte, an important regional rail centre, and has a flat there.

The son of a railway worker, Garz n was brought up in housing built for railway workers and went to a school run by Renfe. It was in Monforte, 70 miles inland from Santiago de Compostela, that he began working for the company in his early 20s.

He had 10 years’ experience as a driver and Renfe’s president, Julio G mez-Pomar Rodr guez, said Garz n had worked on the Ourense to Santiago line, where the accident took place, for more than a year.

Before returning to his native Galicia, he had worked on the line between Madrid and Barcelona, which is served by so-called AVE trains that can reach speeds of 310kph (193mph).

Julia Morais, a friend of his own age in his home town of Monforte de Lemos, told Reuters: “He was sensible and very good at his job. We don’t know what could have happened.”

Garz n’s professionalism appeared to have been compromised by the discovery of a photograph he posted to his Facebook page showing his speedometer at 200kph. However, as a driver of high-speed trains he may have been on a stretch of the network where such a speed is permitted. The photograph was posted on 8 March 2012. It nevertheless surprised Garzon’s friends. One wrote: “You’re going like the bloody clappers, lad. Brake.”

Garz n is suspected of criminal recklessness, but has not yet been charged. Spanish rail experts have argued that mere negligence cannot explain the crash: that the “black boxes” recovered from the train will show that a technical fault was partly – or perhaps entirely – to blame for what happened. Garz n reportedly tested negative for alcohol following the crash.

Garz n was led from the scene of the tragedy with his face covered in blood and given nine stitches to a head wound, but appeared otherwise uninjured.

Meanwhile, in the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela, a shrine to the victims of the rail disaster was forming spontaneously at the entrance to the great cathedral of St James on Friday evening.

Friday was the feast of St James and the day many of the pilgrims to the traditional site of his tomb in the cathedral aim to complete their journeys. Some tied little bunches of flowers to the railings at the entrance. Others placed candles and notes on the ledges below. Nearby, a stack of pilgrims’ staffs leant against the wall.

A day for the ending of journeys was appropriate for remembering those who on Wednesday failed to complete theirs. In many cases it was sheer chance that some of the passengers aboard the Alvia 151 lived and others died.

Carmen Quiroga from A Coru a had switched to a later train because she stood a better chance of dining aboard in peace. As soon as her son heard of the accident, he rang her mobile, but it was out of range. “When I eventually spoke to him, he began to weep: he thought I was there,” she told La Voz de Galicia.

Benito Est vez changed his plans after learning from his parents that a relative had been taken to hospital, seriously ill. “I feared that I’d never see him again,” he said.

Others were as unlucky as Quiroga and Estevez were fortunate. A young man at the scene of the accident who declined to be named said he had swapped seats on the way up from Madrid with a woman who was killed when the train derailed.

Father Ricardo V zquez, the spiritual director of the seminary in Santiago, was among those on hand to provide comfort at the centre where relatives of the victims learned of their loved ones’ fate. Among the “devastated human beings” he attended was a man who “was crying out that he wanted to die because he felt responsible for the death of his daughter whom he had persuaded to come and visit him”.

Manuel Su rez, a sales representative from near Santiago, often travelled to Madrid for his work, but never by rail. “He always went by car or plane,” said a cousin. “But on this occasion, he said: ‘This time, I’ll go by train.'”

In closing arguments, defence lawyer paints portrait of Wikileaks source as someone without ‘evil intent’

The lawyer representing the WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning has asked the judge presiding over the soldier’s court martial to decide between two stark portrayals of the accused – the prosecution’s depiction of him as a traitor and seeker of notoriety, and the defence’s account that he was motivated by a desire to make a difference in the world and save lives.

Over four hours of intense closing arguments at Fort Meade in Maryland, David Coombs set up a moral and legal clash of characterisations, between the Manning that he laid out for the court, and the callous and fame-obsessed Manning sketched on Thursday by the US government. “What is the truth?” the lawyer asked Colonel Denise Lind, the presiding judge who must now decide between the two accounts to reach her verdict.

“Is Manning somebody who is a traitor with no loyalty to this country or the flag, who wanted to download as much information as possible for his employer WikiLeaks? Or is he a young, naive, well-intentioned soldier who has his humanist belief central to his decisions and whose sole purpose was to make a difference.”

Coombs answered his own rhetorical question by arguing that all the evidence presented to the trial over the past seven weeks pointed in one direction. “All the forensics prove that he had a good motive: to spark reforms, to spark change, to make a difference. He did not have a general evil intent.”

Coombs ridiculed the prosecution case as a “diatribe” and said that its account of his client as someone who only cared about himself as the opposite of the truth. “He is concerned about everybody, he is concerned to save lives.”

The lawyer continued: “He felt were were all connected to everybody, we had a duty to our fellow human beings. It may have been a little naive, but that is not anti-American, it is really what America is about.”

The closing arguments presented over two days in the courtroom at Fort Meade have emerged into a clash of visions about the nature of leaking of official secrets in the digital age. At the centre of the battle is Manning himself, a diminutive figure in military fatigues, who has sat silently throughout.

With the end of the evidential stage of the trial, it now falls to the Lind to make sense of these two starkly conflicting pictures and reach a verdict that could come within days. Sitting without a jury at Manning’s own request she must now decide whether the soldier is guilty of 21 counts that could see him detained in military custody for life without any chance of parole, plus a total of 154 years for itemised offences.

The soldier has already admitted to transmitting hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, and to a lesser version of the charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

The most serious charge against Manning, carrying a possible life sentence, is that he “aided the enemy”, specifically al-Qaida, by passing intelligence to WikiLeaks which then made it accessible on the internet. In prosecution closing arguments, the government alleged that because of Manning sensitive US state secrets had been found in the possession of Osama bin Laden the day the al-Qaida leader was killed.

Countering that view, Coombs argued that WikiLeaks was a legitimate news organisation on a par with the international alliance of news outlets that had worked with the anti-secrecy websites to release edited versions of Manning’s disclosures. “WikiLeaks is no different from the New York Times, no different from the Guardian, no different from Der Spiegel.”

He cited the US government’s own counter-intelligence report on WikiLeaks that described the organisation as being motivated by a desire to hold governments accountable to their people. “That is the watchdog function of the press – that is what the press is designed to do,” Coombs said.

The “aiding the enemy” charge is the most contentious aspect of the Manning trial. It has provoked a wide debate about its possible impact on press freedom in the US, with first amendment advocates warning it could spread a chill across investigative reporting.

Coombs made his comments within that context, implying that to hold Manning guilty of helping al-Qaida by dint of having leaked to a news organisation would set a dangerous precedent. “Giving something to a legitimate news organisation is the way we hold our government accountable. Giving information to the world, to inform the public does not give intelligence to the enemy,” he said.

Contrary to the prosecution’s claim that he was indiscriminate in his leaking, Coombs said that Manning was careful to be selective in his choice of documents, weeding out “humint” reports that gave specific details on human sources on the ground and focusing instead on civilian loss of life such as the Apache video. “If he was a traitor who wanted to hurt the US, you would have seen a lot more indiscreet disclosures,” he said.

The defence attorney also tried to undercut prosecution allegations that the more than 700,000 documents Manning leaked were damaging to the US. The soldier faces several counts under the 1917 Espionage Act accusing him of leaking intelligence “with reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation”.

Coombs attempted to counter those charges by arguing that in fact the WikiLeaks disclosures had very limited impact on US interests. The more than 750 files on Guantanamo detainees were “not worth the paper they were written on”, the lawyer said, adding they were intended for background information and were riddled with inaccuracies.

The war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq were historical documents that recorded past battlefield events that could not provide useful intelligence to the enemy given how rapidly tactics on both sides changed in a military conflict. “The harm that could have been done is like Chicken Little yelling the sky is falling down,” Coombs said.

In the most emotive scenes of his closing arguments, Coombs played to the court three clips from the video Manning uploaded to WikiLeaks of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. The clips showed a group of civilians, that included two Reuters correspondents, being mowed down from aerial bullet fire.

Coombs asked the judge to watch the video “from the standpoint of a young man looking at eight people and what we know now to be the truth – there are two reporters there – standing on a street corner and being shot like fish in a barrel … You have to view that through the eyes of a young man who cared about human life.”