Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret state documents to WikiLeaks, will face his military detractors again this morning at the start of up to three more days of procedural hearings ahead of a full court martial.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, has filed several defence motions with the military court in Fort Meade, Maryland, that call for all 22 charges against his client to be dismissed on grounds that the prosecution has mishandled the case. The lawyer will argue that the proceedings have been beset by delays and by refusal to hand over key documents during the discovery process, which he will say is a violation of the military rule book for court martials.
The hearing in Fort Meade is the third time Manning has been seen in public since his arrest on 25 May 2010 at the Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad. He was working as an intelligence analyst there, and has been charged with downloading and transmitting to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks a huge trove of US state secrets including confidential cables from embassies around the world.
In his filings, Coombs is scathing about the way the military authorities have gone about the pre-trial preparations. He talks about what he calls the “government’s ritual incantations” and says that it has taken two years since the case began for the defence to be handed just 12 pages of discovery materials.
Those materials, he writes, “are dated as of November 2010. Why is the defence receiving these in April 2012, a year and five months after they were prepared?”
As a further demonstration of his low opinion of the military prosecutors, Coombs publishes on his blog all the defence motions that he will be arguing in court this week, stating that in his view “the vast majority of the parties’ filings should be made public”. This goes against the military prosecutors’ request that no motions should be filed for security reasons – Coombs has redacted his filings himself to remove references in the documents that the army has said should not be released.
At the heart of the disagreement over procedures is Coombs’s longstanding request for key documents under discovery from the prosecution which he says are crucial to Manning receiving a fair trial.
In particular, the lawyer has tried to obtain access to damage assessments by US intelligence experts. These gave an expert opinion on whether or not the confidential documents that were handed to WikiLeaks, allegedly by Manning, did any harm to US national interests.
It is Coombs’s apparent suspicion that the assessments found that the leak was not of great significance in terms of its impact on American interests – a fact that would certainly be relevant in legal argument over an appropriate sentence for the soldier should he be found guilty.
Coombs also wants to see transcripts of grand jury proceedings held in Virginia where it is believed the department of justice has been considering bringing a criminal case against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. One theory widely held among Manning’s supporters is that he has been singled out for harsh treatment in order to force him to testify against Assange who is seen by the US government as their main target.
[Photo of Bradley manning via AFP]