16 Dec 2011

WikiLeaks suspect Manning in court

Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of the leaking classified US documents to WikiLeaks, makes his first court appearance since being arrested in Iraq last year.

Amid tight security at Fort Meade, Maryland, Private First Class Manning, 23, is attending a pre-court hearing where he is accused of multiple charges including aiding the enemy, which could see him jailed for 52 years. The hearing is to determine whether he should be court-martialled

The US Army intelligence analyst, who has not been seen since his arrest in Iraq in May 2010, is suspected of being the source of documents that last year were published by WikiLeaks.

The whistleblower organisation released a tranche of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables – many of them marked “classified” – which revealed US officials’ views about foreign nations.

Manning’s lawyer David Coombs asked the presiding officer at the hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, to step down, arguing that his civilian occupation is as a prosecutor at the Justice Department, which is involved in a criminal investigation targeting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Mr Coombs said: “If the Department of Justice got their way, they would get a plea in this case, and get my client to be named as one of the witnesses to go after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.”

Col Lt Almanza said he had not formed an opinion about Manning’s guilt or innocence.

Previously, WikiLeaks also released 400,000 US military files on the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Secret war files: Afghanistan to Iraq

Referring to the WikiLeaks publications, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “It was a very unfortunate and damaging action… that put at risk individuals and relationships to an extent that we took it very seriously and launched a vigorous diplomatic effort to try to counter.”

Prosecutors will argue that there is enough evidence to bring Manning to trial at a general court martial on 22 criminal charges. The
pre-trial hearing is expected to proceed until 23 December.

If found guilty on all counts, Manning would face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, reduction in rank to the lowest enlisted pay grade, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge, the US Army said in a statement.

The most serious charge, aiding the enemy, is a capital crime that carries the death penalty, but the army has indicated it does not plan to seek that punishment.

It is the first time Manning has been seen by the public since May last year. He appeared in military khakis and wearing black-rimmed glasses.

He was initially detained on a charge of improperly obtaining a classified gunsight video. The video showed a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.

Authorities were alerted to Manning by a former hacker, Adrian Lamo, to whom the soldier confided that he had extracted the documents from a military computer in Iraq.

Lamo has claimed that Manning told him he would got to work with the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade with music on a recordable CD labelled “something like Lady Gaga”.

He would then delete the music and fill the CD with data from the military’s secret network.

Manning said he “listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s song Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in (A)merican history”, according to a transcript of his internet chats with Lamo.

In his internet conversations with Lamo, Manning appears to acknowledge handing over materials to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has, coincidentally, been granted permission by Britain’s supreme court to appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he faces sex crime allegations.

Read more: Bradley Manning - life before WikiLeaks