Bradley Manning has failed to persuade a military judge to throw out half of the counts against him in a pre-trial hearing before his court martial for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of state secrets to WikiLeaks.
Colonel Denise Lind, presiding over the proceedings at Fort Meade in Maryland, rejected a defence motion that 10 of the 22 counts against the US soldier should be dismissed. The decision leaves Manning facing a possible sentence of life in military custody for allegedly having been the source of the WikiLeaks publications that included war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, video footage of a US helicopter attack on civilians and diplomatic cables from around the world.
The ruling came at the end of the third day of hearings at Fort Meade that have been dominated by complaints from Manning’s lawyers that he is not being allowed a fair trial. The soldier’s lead civilian lawyer, David Coombs, told the court that Manning’s military prosecutors had been lapse in their obligation to hand over evidence that could help him defend himself.
As a result of the legal tussles, the judge ordered extra pre-trial hearings to be scheduled and made it clear to the prosecution that they had to step up their efforts to provide full disclosure of materials to the defence that could help Manning prove his innocence or reduce any sentence. As a result, the full court martial will be delayed from September to November or possibly January.
But Lind refused to meet a request on the part of the defence to throw out many of the charges against Manning. Two of the 10 that Coombs had asked to be dismissed related to the soldier’s access to closed military computers.Manning was employed as an intelligence analyst at the Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad between 2009 and 2010. His job was to pore over databases relating to insurgent activity in Iraq and search for patterns of behaviour that would aid his military commanders in the framing of strategy.
In the pursuit of that work, Manning was authorised to enter the closed computer network known as the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet.
Yet he is charged with having “exceeded authorised access when he accessed those classified government computers for an unauthorized or expressly forbidden purpose.”
Manning’s defence team objected to that more expansive interpretation of the term “authorised access”, arguing that he was clearly permitted to use the computer network and that his purpose for doing so was irrelevant to the charge. The judge agreed with that legal interpretation, but said she did not have sufficient evidence to dismiss the two counts.
Her nuanced ruling, however, puts the onus on the prosecution to up its game in pressing these two counts at trial.
Lind also rejected a defence motion to dismiss a further eight counts. The defence argued that the charges, that all relate to unauthorised possession and disclosure of classified information, were so vaguely worded as to be unconstitutional.
In these cases, the judge disagreed and allowed the charges to stand.The delay in the preparation for trial means that by the time Manning does finally face a jury he will have already been in custoy for almost three years. He was arrested on 26 May 2010 and is now being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
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