By Ian Simpson
FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) – Court-martial prosecutors called their last witness on Tuesday against the soldier charged with providing a trove of secret material to WikiLeaks in the biggest leak of classified files in U.S. history.
Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, faces 21 charges, including espionage, computer fraud and, most seriously, aiding the enemy. Manning could face life in prison without parole if convicted.
Judge Colonel Denise Lind ruled that final prosecution witness Daniel Lewis, a counterintelligence adviser at the Defense Intelligence Agency, could testify, first in a closed session and then in an open one. Both closed and open sessions were held on Monday for Lewis to establish his qualifications.
He is the government’s 28th in-person witness since the trial started on June 3. More than 50 written statements from witnesses have also been submitted by prosecutors.
Lind has set a court recess from Wednesday to Monday, when the defense case will begin. The defense has listed 46 potential witnesses and the trial is scheduled to run to August 23.
Lawyers for Manning have described him as naive but well-intentioned in wanting to show the American public the reality of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Army prosecutors contend U.S. security was damaged when the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy website published classified information supplied by Manning. They say Manning obtained more than 700,000 classified files, combat videos and diplomatic cables while he was a junior intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.
Among the accusations of harm to the United States, the former head of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has testified that the leaking of details of prisoners held there threatened “serious” damage to national security.
Military prosecutors have sought to portray Manning as a loner who boasted of his expertise with computers and ability to crack passwords. They contend that arrogance drove Manning to leak the information.
Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, has said the soldier from Crescent, Oklahoma, believed the leaked material would not harm U.S. interests since it lacked operational value.
Coombs contends Manning, who is gay, was struggling with his sexual identity when he arrived in Iraq and was conflicted by his exposure to war and a trove of military data.
Dressed in a dark uniform, the slightly built Manning has sat silently throughout the trial so far, dwarfed by his taller defense attorneys and listening with a chin on his fist or slumped in his chair.
As the case has ground on, the onlookers that filled the small courtroom in the early days dwindled to about a half dozen by Tuesday. About a dozen reporters were following the trial through closed-circuit television, far fewer than the crowds when the case opened.
The testimony at Fort Meade outside Washington, home of the ultra-secret National Security Agency, has portrayed a laid-back atmosphere at the outpost east of Baghdad where Manning worked.
He and other analysts often listened to music, played video games or watched movies while they were on duty, supposed to be tracking insurgents and al Qaeda, witnesses have said.
WikiLeaks returned to headlines last month when it helped organize the departure of fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.
Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for the past year to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Assange, an Australian, says the charges are reprisal for WikiLeaks’ publication of information embarrassing to the U.S. and other governments.
(Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Gary Hill)
[U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning is escorted from the courtroom after a day of his court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryland]