Wikileak’s Manning trial begins after 3 years in jail

More than three years after his arrest, Army Private First Class Bradley Manning faces court martial Monday, a military proceeding that has been widely criticized for its secretive nature.

Manning, a 25-year-old former intelligence analyst, pleaded guilty to several charges in February, but still faces 21 counts, the most serious of which is aiding the enemy. He has admitted releasing hundreds of thousands of secret government files to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

He has been held in military confinement since July 2010. The trial will be held at Fort Meade, Maryland.

As the trial unfolds in the US, the recipient of Manning’s purloined classified material and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is ensnared in his own legal problems in Britain.

He has been holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since June 2012 after he exhausted his appeals against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on sex abuse allegations. Ecuador has granted Assange asylum, but in order to travel there he would have to cross British territory and could be seized and extradited.

In a pre-trial hearing on May 21, prosecutors dropped one of the counts against Manning, but said they would press ahead with the others. The decision reduced his potential prison sentence by eight years, but if he is convicted on the other counts, he could be sent away for more than 150 years.

The trial is expected to last up to 12 weeks and could involve hundreds of witnesses, including 24 who will testify in closed court, according to a ruling by the judge, Colonel Denise Lind.

The 24 witnesses include several ambassadors and military officers who possess classified information, according to Lind. She said closure was necessary to prevent “spillage” of government secrets and to protect overriding national security interests.

Lind’s ruling also ordered a transcript of the testimony be prepared and published after classified information is redacted. Civil liberties groups have filed petitions seeking greater access to court records, but their efforts have largely been stymied.

A member of the team that raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 could be among the witnesses to testify in closed court. Prosecutors identified the witness as a Department of Defence “operator” and said he might appear in light disguise and testify under a pseudonym.

He is expected to provide evidence that al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden saw the secret documents posted on WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mannning had reason to believe the information he leaked – diplomatic cables, assessment files of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and logs of military incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan posted on WikiLeaks – could be used either to the detriment of the US or to the advantage of any foreign nation.

Manning has said he gave the classified documents to WikiLeaks to expose what he considered abuses by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he thought carefully about the information he was releasing to ensure it would not cause harm.

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning

Supporters of Manning have been active ahead of his court martial and plan a mass demonstration at Fort Meade on Saturday.

They say 1,000 people will descend on the military base to show their support for the whistle-blower. They will march, perform skits and offer other “creative visuals” to protest against his imprisonment.

Daniel Ellsberg, the whistle-blower in the Pentagon papers case that exposed the US military’s activities in Vietnam, is among the scheduled speakers.

They support Manning for exposing the true number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, US-sanctioned torture in Iraq, and a pattern of corporate influence on US foreign policy worldwide.

His supporters also point out that Manning was subjected to solitary confinement in a windowless cell for nine months early in his detention period in violation of international law. During that time he was allowed out once a day for a short period of time.

The bin-Laden evidence was picked up in the May 2011 US raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader in his Pakistan compound. The digital media seized there included a letter from bin Laden asking an al-Qaeda operative to gather Department of Defence material posted to WikiLeaks.

More freedom of information and Wikileaks news

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Internet freedom won’t be curbed: UN

Be careful what you say on the internet

WikiLeaks “witchhunt” claims denied by US

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Wikileak’s Manning trial begins after 3 years in jail