FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — In November 2012, after nearly a dozen times photographing the routine arrival and departure of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning for his pretrial hearings outside a courthouse on a Maryland military post, something caught me off-guard: He smiled.
In the past, the soldier accused of leaking thousands of documents to WikiLeaks occasionally crooked his neck to glance toward me, sometimes even expressing something between a smirk and a smile. But on that morning as he climbed out of an SUV, he looked directly at me and flashed a big smile before disappearing behind a team of large guards. It happened so quickly that I had to check my camera afterward to double-check.
As the picture ran more widely over the coming months, Manning seemingly became less visible. His guards, who by comparison made a young man barely 5 feet tall look even more diminutive, walked in front of him and obstructed my view. They had previously stayed off to his side, giving me a few seconds to photograph him unobstructed. While public affairs officials overseeing the proceedings went out of their way to assist me in photographing Manning, it seemed like the security team was making it more difficult to see him.
By the time his court martial began Monday, Manning and his security team arrived before photographers were escorted to the courthouse. When he left that afternoon, my only view of the defendant was part of the ubiquitous black beret on his head. He was obstructed by guards, who once escorted Manning while wearing their Army uniforms but over time swapped for more civilian-looking t-shirts or polos, khakis and dark sunglasses.
Col. Michelle Roberts, a military spokeswoman, declined to specifically address why Manning has been blocked from photographers’ view. She said that the screening procedures in place during trial are the same as those in place for previous hearings since December 2011, and that the security detail’s focus is Manning’s security and safety.
After a flurry of communication between The Associated Press and military officials earlier this week, the only person visible in my camera’s frame with Manning Wednesday morning was a lone man in wire rim glasses and a polo shirt, not much taller than Manning himself, looking nothing like the usual military guards.