Judge refuses to combine charges in WikiLeaks case

April 26, 2012 - 1:59 PM

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — A military judge rejected defense motions Thursday to consolidate some of the 22 charges against an Army private accused in the biggest leak of government secrets in U.S. history.

Col. Denise Lind said she would rule late in the afternoon on a defense motion to dismiss the most serious charge against Pfc. Bradley Manning — aiding the enemy — which carries a maximum life sentence.

Lind opened Thursday's session of pretrial proceedings by rejecting the defense's argument that the government had piled on duplicative charges to increase Manning's potential punishment. For example, the defense had argued that Manning's alleged theft of 380,000 Iraq war logs from a military database and his alleged transmission of those files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks should have been charged as one offense, not two.

Lind said a theft can occur whether or not the stolen material is transmitted. She said the 10-year penalty for each of those offenses wasn't unreasonable given the "voluminous government records" involved. And she said that if the government had truly wanted to pile on charges, it could have alleged numerous aiding-the-enemy violations.

Lind said the defense could raise the consolidation motion again for sentencing purposes if Manning is convicted.

She denied another defense motion seeking to dismiss a count on the grounds that it was improperly charged. That count alleges that Manning wrongfully and wantonly caused intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing it would be accessible to the enemy.

Lind also heard arguments on a government motion to bar any discussion at trial of whether the leaked material harmed U.S. interests. Prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein argued that the government must prove only that Manning leaked the material knowing it could cause harm, regardless of whether it did.

The motion appeared to be aimed at blocking the defense's attempts to obtain classified reports compiled by the departments of Defense, State and Justice assessing the damage done by the WikiLeaks disclosures. Defense attorney David Coombs said the reports probably say the leaks did little or no damage; otherwise, the prosecution would be eager to discuss them.

Fein said that since the government doesn't have to prove damage, any courtroom discussion of damage assessments would waste the court's time.

"Just because a damage assessment might say damage did occur or didn't occur, it's completely irrelevant" to the charges, Fein said.

In seeking dismissal of the "aiding the enemy" count, the defense argued Manning had no "evil intent" to help al-Qaida when he allegedly sent hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war reports and State Department diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning stated in an online chat with a confidant-turned-informant that he leaked the information because,"I want people to see the truth."

Prosecutors said they would need only to prove that Manning knew that the enemy would see the material and that he sent it without authorization.

Manning hasn't entered a plea to any of the charges. He also hasn't yet decided whether he will be tried by a judge or a jury. His trial is set for Sept. 21 through Oct. 12.

The 24-year-old Oklahoma native was ordered court-martialed after he was accused of downloading the documents, diplomatic cables and video clips, then sending them to WikiLeaks. He was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad when authorities say he copied classified material from government computers in late 2009 and early 2010.

The material WikiLeaks published included cockpit video of a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter attack that killed a number of civilians, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The U.S. government says the civilian deaths were accidental.

Prosecutors acknowledged in court Wednesday that the helicopter video was not classified, although Manning allegedly got it from a Defense Department computer network intended for classified material. He is charged with "having unauthorized possession" of the video clip.

Manning has been in pretrial confinement since he was charged in May 2010. He has been held since last April at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

His earlier treatment at a Marine Corps base caused support for him to swell. The Quantico, Va., brig commander kept Manning confined 23 hours a day in a single-bed cell, citing safety and security concerns. For several days in March 2011, he was forced to sleep naked, purportedly for injury prevention, before he was issued a suicide-prevention smock.

Manning's supporters have raised funds to place posters in the Washington Metro subway system this week portraying him as a whistleblower, patriot and hero.