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Alleged WikiLeaker Returns to Fort Meade Courtroom

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT MEADE, Md. , June 6, 2012 – Army Pfc. Bradley Manning returned to the courtroom here today as lawyers spent most of the day wrangling over the release of documents associated with what’s considered the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history.

Dominating the first of what is expected to be a three-day pre-trial hearing was Manning’s civilian attorney, David Coombs, arguing that the prosecution is withholding key materials needed to build a solid defense.

On the other side of the aisle, Army Maj. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, called the defense’s “unreasonable” request for documents, many of which he said were irrelevant to the case, a ploy to slow down the proceedings. He insisted, however, that the government is going “above and beyond” its legal obligations and is turning over the materials as quickly as possible.

Coombs, also an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who has deployed to Iraq, accused the government of providing the requested records too slowly, in a piecemeal fashion or not at all. He complained of confronting “roadblock after roadblock” in attempting to get these documents, which include various federal agencies’ official assessments of actual damages caused by the alleged leaks.

Coombs also protested that many of documents received so far are so heavily redacted -- meaning specific parts have been blacked out -- that they’re of limited value.

Army Capt. Joshua Tooman, one of Manning’s two military lawyers, asserted that this threatens the defense team’s strategy of proving that Manning caused little or no damage in leaking the classified documents while serving as a military intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Fein noted that the time and manpower needed to review the massive number of documents from multiple entities threatens to unnecessarily drag out the legal process and deny Manning an expeditious trial. “The government has been [reviewing] and continues to review the documents,” he said. “But it is a massive amount of documents.”

Fein told the court that some of the materials are so sensitive that they cannot be used in the trial. He repeated his concern about “graymailing” this and future legal proceedings with requirements that threaten to disclose national secrets. Graymailing refers to using classified information or the threat of exposing it as a way to circumvent the legal process.

Military judge Army Col. Denise Lind reported that she has personally reviewed the documents turned over so far, and noted that the CIA’s submission will require additional information before being turned over to the defense. Lacking that, the prosecution would not be able to use it during the trial, a military legal officer familiar with the case told reporters.

To address the opposing concerns and limit further legal delays, Lind ruled that the court will add additional hearings between those already scheduled leading up to the trial date to assess progress and break through any logjams.

The next pre-trial hearings are slated for July 16 to 20; Aug. 27 to 31; and Sept. 19 to 20.

Manning’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 21 and continue through Oct. 12. However, that timeline could slip if Lind grants the defense’s request for more time to review documents it claims could reveal that Manning caused minimal damage.

His defense team will decide if the case will be heard by a judge alone, by a jury to consist of all officers, or by a mixed panel that includes one third enlisted members from within Manning’s current command, the Army’s Military District of Washington.

Manning sat quietly during today’s proceedings in his Army service uniform, flanked by his two military attorneys. In the coming days of this pre-trial hearing, the defense is expected to ask Lind to dismiss 10 of the 22 charges against Manning.

Coombs plans to argue that eight of the charges are overly broad and vague and therefore, unconstitutional, the legal officer told reporters. The defense will ask Lind to dismiss two additional charges that Manning exceeded his authorized access to classified networks and argue that the prosecution has not made the case for a prosecutable offense, the officer said.

During Manning’s pre-trial hearing in April, Lind rejected the defense’s argument that all charges against Manning should be dismissed. She also upheld the most serious charge, that he aided the enemy by disclosing classified military and diplomatic material.

The 24-year-old military intelligence analyst was arrested at Contingency Operating Base Hammer near Baghdad on May 25, 2010. A former 10th Mountain Division soldier, Manning is accused of installing unauthorized software onto government computers to extract classified information, unlawfully downloading it, improperly storing it, and transmitting the data to the whistle-blowing group WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks, in turn, released thousands of these documents, including classified records about military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, on its website.

The specific charges against Manning as outlined on his charge sheet include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet knowing that it is accessible to the enemy, theft of public property or records, transmitting defense information, and fraud and related activity in connection with computers.

The charges include violation of Army Regulations 25-2 “Information Assurance” and 380-5 “Department of the Army Information Security Program.”

The maximum sentence Manning could receive, if found guilty of the charges, is life in prison.

He also could be reduced to E-1, the lowest enlisted grade, and face a total forfeiture of all pay and allowances and dishonorable discharge, officials said.

 

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