Hearing to end today on possible court-martial for Bradley Manning

Pfc. Bradley Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks website. His defense attorneys argue that weak oversight is to blame.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 21, after a military hearing that will determine if he should face court-martial for his alleged role in the WikiLeaks classified leaks case went on recess for the day.

Pre-trial hearings to decide whether to court-martial Pfc. Bradley Manning – the soldier accused of stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of top-secret documents to the Wikileaks website – are expected to end today. But Private Manning’s adventures in the US military justice system appear to be just beginning.

Manning’s defense attorneys called just two witnesses to the stand to testify about Manning’s emotional outbursts while working in an intelligence analysis unit in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. Highlighting the outbursts could indicate that the defense team hopes to explore the extenuating circumstances behind Mannings actions of leaking 400,000 field reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as some 250,000 US State Department cables.

Given the importance of this case – Manning’s alleged actions have been described as the single largest intelligence breach in US history – it is unlikely that Manning can avoid a court martial. The question is whether Manning’s defense strategy could reveal more about the inner workings of the US military’s intelligence operations, the missteps of Manning’s superior officers, and even the alleged human rights violations that may have prompted Manning to leak the information in the first place.

Like the 1971 Pentagon Papers case before it, the so-called Wikileaks case is seen by US government officials as devastating to US national security interests, in which the lives of US officials and its informants abroad have been put into danger. Critics of the US see the Wikileaks case, conversely, as a chance to see the truth about alleged US misdeeds during the past decade since Sept. 11, 2001, a time during which the Bush and Obama administrations set aside longtime US laws against torture and indefinite detention.

As the Monitor has reported, Wikileaks’s release of diplomatic cables, starting just over a year ago, has not only been an embarrassment for US diplomats and policymakers, but also many of the foreign leaders and informants whom American diplomats are negotiating with, meeting, and attempting to influence. Efforts have been made by Wikileaks editors and by news organizations such as The New York Times and the Guardian to blot out the names of informants, in order to protect them from reprisals, but in some cases prominent journalists and opposition figures have been exposed and forced to flee into exile.

The government has called 20 witnesses in the Manning case, most of them fellow soldiers in Manning’s unit and computer experts. Prosecutors believe they can prove that Manning leaked the documents to Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange, and that he knew what he was doing was against the law.   

The Associated Press’s David Dishneau writes that the defense strategy seems to be to admit that Manning released the documents, but to say that he was not fully responsible for his actions.

His lawyers are building a three-pronged defense: Manning was a troubled man who shouldn't have had access to classified material, let alone served in Iraq; security at his workplace was weak; and the published material did little or no harm to national security.

CNN’s Pentagon reporter Larry Shaughnessy writes that Manning’s defense strategy, at this stage, seems to be to discover what evidence the prosecutors intend to use, without revealing too much about what the defense may use at a court martial.

Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, said the fact the defense called only two witnesses is not surprising. "For one thing, an Article 32 (hearing) serves as an opportunity for the defense to obtain pre-trial discovery, and particularly information they do not know. Additionally, the likelihood of stopping charges from going forward is non-existent in this case so there is little value in telegraphing to the prosecution information the defense may possess but might not yet have revealed," said Zaid

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