Wikileaks Whistleblower Defers Plea
The U.S. Army intelligence analyst who helped WikiLeaks gain notoriety by leaking thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing site deferred his plea during a military court arraignment on Thursday.
Bradley Manning was formally charged with 22 counts, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, and theft of public property.
In December, the prosecutors at a hearing in Fort Meade presented excerpts from online chats found on Manning’s personal computer that allegedly show a collaboration between him and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Military prosecutors say Manning downloaded over 700,000 classified or confidential documents and transferred thousands to Wikileaks.
The prosecutors said Manning was a trusted analyst who knowingly and methodically downloaded thousands of files from the military’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network while serving in Iraq.
Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, announced that his client would defer his plea as well as a decision on whether to face trial by a military judge or a panel of military members.
His lawyers have pegged him as an emotionally troubled man whose behavioral problems should have prompted superiors to revoke his access to classified information. They say he was a gay soldier while U.S. armed forces still barred gays from serving openly.
They also said that the material Wikileaks published did little to no harm to national security.
If Manning is found guilty of leaking and “aiding the enemy”, he could face a sentence of life in prison.
Coombs proposed for a trial date sometime in April, compared to the government’s proposed calendar date of August 3. The defense attorney said the government’s date would jeopardize Manning’s right to a speedy trial.
A court-martial defendant can defer entering a plea until the start of the trial and defer choosing a judge or jury until shortly before the trial date.
About 20 courtroom observers were in Thursday’s session, including a half-dozen journalists and some Manning supporters.
David Eberhardt, a 70-year-old member of the anti-war group Code Pink, yelled out “Judge, isn’t a soldier required to report a war crime?” during the court session.
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