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Journalism On Trial as Bradley Manning Case Nears Moment of Truth

July 16, 2013

By Alexa O’Brien

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted as he leaves a military court at the end of the first of a three-day motion hearing on June 6, 2012, in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted as he leaves a military court at the end of the first of a three-day motion hearing on June 6, 2012, in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Fort Meade, Maryland—As the defense and the prosecution rested their cases in the largest leak trial in American history, the defense argued Monday that the presiding military judge, Col. Denise Lind, should dismiss “aiding the enemy” and other serious charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who uploaded hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and U.S Army reports to the organization WikiLeaks, which published the material online in 2010.

Prosecutors failed to present evidence that Manning had the requisite knowledge that al Qaeda or the enemy used WikiLeaks, argued civilian defense counsel, David Coombs, on Monday. Anything less than actual knowledge would set a dangerous precedent for a free press, he said, because military prosecutors have already stated that they would have charged Manning similarly had the organization been The New York Times and not WikiLeaks.

Lind, the chief judge of the U.S. Army’s First Judicial Circuit, ruled Monday that she would allow the prosecution to rebut the defense case that WikiLeaks was a respected journalistic organization at the time of the charged offenses, and that Manning had a “noble motive” to inform the public, as the defense has asserted. Prosecutors intend to recall their lead forensic expert to discuss emails to members of the press as well as WikiLeaks tweets found on digital media belonging to Manning. Prosecutors also intend to call another member of Manning’s brigade to testify that the accused told him in May 2010 that “I would be shocked if you are not telling your kids about me in ten to fifteen years from now.”

Manning, who was arrested in May 2010 and spent an unprecedented 1,101 days in confinement before his trial began last month, is charged with 22 crimes. Despite his plea to 10 lesser included offenses carrying a sentence of up to 20 years, the government has pressed ahead on 21 of the charged offenses, which include aiding the enemy, espionage, stealing government property, and “wanton publication,” which could leave the 25-year-old facing life plus 149 years in a military prison if convicted.

Manning has opted to be tried by military judge alone, and not a panel of officers and enlisted personnel. After the closing arguments that follow the prosecution’s rebuttal case, Judge Lind will deliberate and announce her findings. Unlike in a federal criminal case where sentencing commences after the completion of a pre-sentencing report, if Manning is convicted, a sentencing case will begin immediately. Read the rest of the story in the Daily Beast.

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