The presiding judge in the military court martial of Bradley Manning (25), the army intelligence officer charged with passing on confidential State Department cables and evidence of U.S. military attacks to whistleblower website WikiLeaks, ruled on Thursday that two of the most serious charges he faces, including of “aiding the enemy,” would not be thrown out as per the request of the defence team.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said the U.S. government had “met the burden to present evidence that the crimes had been committed,” and thus she would deny the defence motion to throw out the charges of aiding the enemy, which carries a life imprisonment penalty, and the the lesser charge of violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Specifically Judge Lind said the government provided sufficient evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Private Manning knowingly gave information to certain enemy groups including al Qaeda when he handed over the documents to WikiLeaks in 2009.
Lead prosecutor Major Ashden Fein was said to have read into record evidence suggesting that an American member of al Qaida, Adam Gadahn, said, “By the grace of God the enemy's interests are today spread all over the place,” including references to material published by WikiLeaks.
Further prosecutors also argued that an al Qaida magazine said that “Anything useful from WikiLeaks is useful for archiving,” and presented an “uncontested written statement” that Osama bin Laden “asked for and received from an associate the Afghanistan battlefield reports that WikiLeaks published.”
However, as Nathan Fuller, a writer for the Bradley Manning Support Network covering the trial from Fort Meade, pointed out, this evidence related to receipt of materials by terrorist outfits rather than Private Manning’s actual knowledge that his actions would aid this outcome.
Speaking to The Hindu Mr. Fuller described as “circumstantial” the evidence presented on Private Manning’s alleged knowledge that his actions may aid the enemy, including government references to the officer’s training and common knowledge of al Qaida’s use of the Internet.
If the judge holds Private Manning guilty he is liable to face life in prison with an additional 154 years tacked on. In February he pleaded guilty to ten lesser charges of the 22 that he faced, including admitting to passing on hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.
The cumulative sentence that he faced over those ten charges was 20 years. Earlier, Professor Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School testified to Judge Lind, that “the cost of finding Pfc. Manning guilty of aiding the enemy would impose” too great a burden on the “willingness of people of good conscience but not infinite courage to come forward,” and “would severely undermine the way in which leak-based investigative journalism has worked in the tradition of [the] free press in the U.S.”
In prior testimony Private Manning admitted that he had supplied WikiLeaks with the diplomatic cables and segments of the Iraq and Afghanistan “war logs,” which included files on detainees in the U.S. prison in Guantánamo and the “collateral murder” video of an Apache helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq. At the time Private Manning said, “I found the video troubling at the time, Your Honour, and I still do, but it’s just my opinion, though.”
Among the remaining charges, to which Private Manning did not admit guilt, the “aiding the enemy” charge carried the death penalty; however the prosecution said it would drop its pursuit of capital punishment in favour of life in prison with no chance of parole.
The trial, which is underway in Fort Meade, Maryland, has still not reached the phase of closing arguments which are expected in the coming weeks. Following this a verdict will be decided and followed by sentencing if applicable.